Saturday, December 31, 2011

Autograph collection, 1621-1985, undated

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis University houses a collection of rare autograph documents, donated by various people, which range in date from the early seventeenth century through the twentieth. The Autograph collection spans 5.0 linear feet with 10 manuscript boxes and 1 oversized folder containing signed documents, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and etchings from notable historical and public personalities, including Justice Brandeis, John F. Kennedy, Henry James, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Mann, Isaac Newton, Joan Crawford, Lady Bird Johnson, Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoi, Leon Trotsky, and many others.

"Strange that the mere identity of paper and ink should be so powerful. The same thoughts might look cold and ineffectual in a printed book. Human nature craves a certain materialism and clings perniciously to what is tangible, as if that were of more importance than the spirit accidently involved in it."
--Nathaniel Hawthorne

The term “autograph” may immediately bring to mind the image of a celebrity’s signature, captured by a fan on any surface that is at hand. While the noun “autograph” is equivalent to “signature,” the adjective “autograph” (or “holograph”) refers to anything written by hand with any type of marking instrument. Evidence of autograph collecting dates back to antiquity, though it appeared in its modern form only around the beginning of the nineteenth century. The great libraries amassed the earliest collections, but private citizens, notably the two Plinys and Cicero, eventually developed an interest in collecting as well. There are also descriptions of autograph material being used to decorate homes and temples in China.

Interest in autograph documents rose again after the invention of the printing press and the paper mill, as these innovations resulted in the replacement of vellum by paper as the preferred writing surface. A concurrent spread of the art of calligraphy promoted education and the dissemination of ideas, leading to a period of increased intellectual exchange in Europe. Those associated with the court, Church, and universities began to collect documents and letters with interesting or important content. While less expensive and easier to distribute than vellum, paper was still quite expensive to obtain and send, so the physical document itself was as precious as its content. Another trend in the early modern period was the alba amicorum, small notebooks carried by students and travelers which they would fill with notes of interesting occurrences and quotations. They also collected sentiments and greetings from professors, friends, and prominent people they encountered in their travels.

"Assuredly Nature would prompt every individual to have a distinct sort of write as she had given a peculiar countenance—a voice—and a manner.”
--Isaac D’Israeli,
On Autographs

There was a major boom in autograph collecting in both Europe and America at the turn of the nineteenth century; this had the most impact on modern autograph collecting. One catalyst was likely the popularity of “Grangerizing,” which was the insertion of autographs and other illustrative material into printed books; another was the development of the art of handwriting analysis, which sought to uncover a person’s true self as it was expressed through his or her handwriting.

In the 1820s and 1830s, the publication of “autograph albums” containing facsimiles of famous signatures became quite popular; in 1836 and again in 1841-1842, Edgar Allan Poe published novel and extremely popular analyses of facsimile literary autographs. This functioned as a form of celebrity gossip, and autograph collecting swiftly became no longer purely a pursuit of the wealthy or scholarly. The public developed a fascination with collecting the signatures of notable figures themselves and would write to them with requests for autographs.

The newfound ease in communicating with prominent figures was brought about by the shift from a rank-ordered society to a more egalitarian one. A major testament to these increased egalitarian feelings was the willingness of the public, from the 1870s onward, to request signatures from royalty without offering the customary gifts, which represented a striking breach of social taboo. While these signatures had little monetary value, they were a great source of social capital for the collector and one that was relatively easy to acquire. Although official anxieties grew over these practices, the public became more at ease and not only wrote to monarchs but attempted to fabricate accidental meetings as well.

It became customary for the signatures of famous men and women to adorn their portraits, and this practice continues today, as signed pictures of celebrities are still very popular. Signatures composed without forethought or deliberation were more highly valued than those that were “commissioned,” so to speak, as handwriting was regarded as an unconscious and authentic product of the writer’s innermost self. One collector wrote, “There is something furtive about a true autograph. We should come by it obliquely and not by direct attack. A name written at the request of a stranger is only about as valuable as the same name stamped by machinery.” Therefore, autograph collectors preferred to obtain signatures by ruse rather than request or purchase. Interest in autographs peaked in the late 1920s, but sharply declined during the Great Depression and World War II. After the war, interest rose again, and the booming entertainment industries provided a new field of celebrities from which to gather autographs.

While the proponents of handwriting analysis regarded the signature as something that revealed or proved some aspect of the writer’s identity, signatures are also very important for other proof as well. Handwriting analysis is now out of fashion, so while fans who attempt to collect a celebrity autograph still attempt to create that intangible, lasting connection, they may also value the autograph as tangible proof of their encounter with that celebrity. The excitement generated by the encounter with the celebrity is often the impetus for collecting, rather than the existence of any monetary value. Another important element of the signature is its value as a legal entity, which indicates the knowledge, approval, acceptance, or obligation relating to that document. It can be a name or just a mark put down by that person, but it holds a great amount of power.

Handwriting analysis may have been the initial impetus for collecting autographs in the nineteenth century, but, both then and now, the greatest reward seems to come from the connection the collector makes to his or her subject, which is something of almost mystical quality. The autograph itself seems to exude an aura of greatness and allows the collector to create a link to its writer, regardless of whether the distance between them is measured in miles or in centuries. The special quality imbued in the physicality of the autograph, like the preciousness of the paper in previous centuries, becomes almost more important than the content because of its ability to capture part of the self that produced it.
The autograph collection at Brandeis includes a stunning variety of autographs. From the historical documents and celebrity signatures acquired to build a collection to the personal correspondence between the donors and prominent figures, it represents the range of reasons why people collect autographs as well as the importance of the handwritten word in many contexts.
For information on one of the rarest items in the collection, the Newton Manuscript, see the Special Collections Spotlight from May 2011. An online finding aid to the collection is available here.

description by Katherine Morley, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and M.A. candidate in Anthropology


Fields, Joseph E. “The History of Autograph Collecting.” In Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector’s Manual. Edmund Berkeley, Jr., ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.

Notlep, Robert. The Autograph Collector. New York, Crown Publishers, 1968.

Patterson, Jerry E. Autographs: A Collector’s Guide. Crown Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1973.

Thornton, Tamara Plakins. Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University, 1996.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

French Revolution pamphlets, 1761-1807

The French Revolution pamphlets collection at Brandeis University's Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department consists of 94 documents (three linear feet) published during the period of the French revolution and during the years immediately preceding and following that revolution (1761-1807). The pamphlets deal with politics, religious life, literature and intellectual life, among other topics. A great many of the pamphlets are official publications of the revolutionary government dealing with justice, law and public order as well as the internal politics of France during a dynamic and sometimes chaotic period of the country's history. The collection contains political tracts by authors including Thomas Paine, Jacques Necker, Mirabeau and King Louis XVI. Most of the pamphlets deal with the period of 1789-1799 and discuss issues such as the storming of the Bastille, the execution of Louis XVI and the flight of the Count of Artois (later Charles X), the Terror and the wars of the late 1790's. It includes several pamphlets describing various aspects of and events in the city of Bordeaux both before and during the Revolution, highlighting in particular the process of modernization and state centralization. Also in evidence are a great number of pamphlets concerning religion, especially the position of Catholics under the revolutionary government. Each category of documents provides a different perspective on this period, and the collection will likely be of particular interest to those with interests in the Enlightenment, urban history, monarchism and the counterrevolution, or the history and politics of secularization. Most of the documents are in French and nine are in English.

A variety of social, economic and political pressures came to a head in 1789 when France's massive foreign debt forced King Louis XVI to call the Estates General, an assembly representing the "estates" of the nobility and the clergy as well as the "Third Estate" of commoners. Despite the much greater number of people represented by the Third Estate, each estate was given equal representation within the Estates General. The relative weakness of the royal government put the increasingly wealthy and powerful third estate (led by the urban bourgeoisie and a rising merchant class) in a position to make demands. In response to what was widely viewed as the outsized power of the clergy and nobility, the Third Estate severed itself from the other two estates and formed a National Assembly claiming to speak for the people of France and against the entrenched interests of the church and the nobility. What followed was a rapid series of political developments that eventually led to the overthrow of the French monarchy and the installation of a secular republic. The period of the revolution saw the promulgation of a wide range of political ideas and positions, as well as an outpouring of pamphlets intended to popularize these ideas and exhort the public to action. Political and social change was accompanied by a revolution in print, as the popular press came to occupy an increasingly important role in French public discourse and political culture.1

These developments were used not only by the revolutionaries and the radical philosophes but also by their enemies on the monarchist right and among French Catholics. Some of the most unusual and fascinating documents in the collection are written from the perspective of French Catholic women, a group whose story is often overshadowed by traditional narratives of the French Revolution. During the course of the Revolution, the church was increasingly subjugated to the state under the policy of "de-Christianization." Clergy were required, beginning in July 1790, to sign an oath of loyalty to the state. Those who refused (known as nonjuring clergy) were subject to the penalty of death. This oath, outlined in the so-called "Civil Constitution of the Clergy," caused a schism between those who agreed to take it and those who refused, and this split occasioned a heated debate over the place of the Church in politics and society. At the same time, the demise of the old regime and the institution of a "republic of virtue" marked a large shift in women's positions in society. The Church had long been a sphere in which women had a degree of influence, both as worshippers and as members of holy orders. The church's rigid patriarchal structure nonetheless provided women with a number of potential positions in which they could exercise socially meaningful power. Nuns cared for the sick and educated children, while laywomen who attended mass provided a link between ecclesiastical authority and the realm of home and family. The new regime, inspired in part by the writings of rationalist philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, likewise consigned women to a subordinate position.2 However, its reforms also threatened spaces such as the Church that had provided a measure of independence and social importance to women's lives. Two pamphlets written in the voices of Catholic women provide differing perspectives on this phenomenon, and together offer fascinating insights into the state of gender relations, political culture and public religion during the Revolution.

The first of these pamphlets is undated and deals primarily with the oath required of clergy by the Civil Constitution during the early period of the Revolution, before the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793. It begins, "To Messieurs the Deputies of the National Assembly: Address of a sister of the Christian Institution on the subject of the oath required of religious persons, charged with the service of the sick poor and with the education of the youth." (1) She goes on to describe the Church's integral role in society, as well as its links to the monarchy. "From the most tender age we have consecrated ourselves to the cult of God, to the practice of virtues, to the service of the poor, in the education of the youth. For this sacrifice, we are sheltered from the passions that inspire pride, love of honors, pleasures, riches, independence: living continually in humility, chastity, poverty, work, submission in the extreme to the wills of our superiors, here is all of our ambition. In the will of our monarch, we perceive that of God." Thus, "if one would undertake to cause the sovereign rights to pass from one hand to another, then it would be absolutely necessary to convince us of the legitimacy of that transport." (2) She argues that the civil constitution "will not suffice" to convince the clergy of the legitimacy of the new regime. If the clergy cannot accept the legitimacy of those in power, then it would be "useless" to ask them to swear an oath to that power. She then launches a sustained critique of the oath itself, arguing that it is "unusual and not owed" to the authorities, that it is "unintelligible" in addition to being illegal and impractical. Citing its "irreligious" and anti-Catholic tone and implications, she further elaborates that the oath is "anti-monarchical," arguing that, "this (oath) is to abolish, to annihilate in its foundations the monarchy itself." The pamphlet argues that the Catholic faith and the authority of the church form the basis of all legitimate government, and "honest citizens, who believe in God" cannot be expected to approve of any effort to undermine either the church or the monarchy.

Thus the pamphlet, through the conceit of criticizing the oath alone, in fact launches an all-out attack on the legitimacy and the morality of the revolution. "In overturning the throne of our sovereign, you do away as well with all of the degrees (of dignity) that elevate the greatest lords around his majesty." (14) In undermining and imposing limitations on the church and the monarchy, the assembly undoes the order of society; it "confounds all of the ranks and overturns all of the orders of the citizens." (14) She argues for the necessity of hierarchy in society, based on the "natural" dependency of the servant on the master, the plaintiff on the judge and the citizen on the king. When the equal rights of man are declared, this natural order is overturned.

The pamphlet alleges that the oath is "the result of an awful conspiracy" perpetrated by a coalition of Lutherans, Calvinists and Jansenists. (20) Their disrespect for the authority of the Catholic Church and thus for the principle of authority itself has led them to oppose "all sovereigns," and so they conspire to dismantle the place of the Church in society against the will of the king. The conspiracy is said to reach all the way to the top, in the form of a "man from Geneva" (most likely the reformist royal minister Jacques Necker) who was "placed" close to the king following the American Revolution and worked from within the government to begin dismantling the old regime, expanding the representation of the 3rd estate in the Estates General and otherwise undermining the natural order in the name of the "new philosophy," (27) the impious tenets of which include individual liberty and freedom of the press. Such conspiratorial thinking seems to presage much of the anti-Protestant, anti-masonic and even anti-Semitic rhetoric that would later come to characterize French right-wing propaganda.
The final section, "An oath (that is) totally inopportune/inadequate (impolitique)," notes how, "One of your deputies has dared to say, that this oath is an act so sacred, so dear to a citizen. We believe, on the contrary, that this oath is an act so irreligious, so unjust, so offensive to our monarch, so disastrous, so dangerous for our country (patrie), that it cannot be permitted either to exist or to be granted." (32) She challenges the reader to convince her and the rest of the clergy otherwise, finishing by saying that, "If we do not receive any illumination from you, we will continue to keep silent: fear not that we will excite new troubles: we believe ourselves to always respect the laws, the powers of the sovereign." (32) In spite of this apparent conciliation, the point of the pamphlet is clear. No French government can be truly legitimate without its anointed ruler and his attendant social hierarchy, and devout Catholics owe their allegiance only to that system. A number of counterrevolutionary actions, including the bloody rebellion in the Vendée (1793-1796), suggest both the seriousness of the pamphleteer's intent and the very real nature of the threat of counterrevolutionary action by disaffected Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The second pamphlet is entitled The History of the Conversion of a Parisian Woman, Written by Herself. Written from the standpoint of a Catholic laywoman and published in 1792, it provides a different and no less fascinating window into the opinions and experiences of French Catholics during the Revolution. The woman in question, who likewise remains anonymous, begins by laying out the source of her need to speak publicly. In spite of her "total ignorance" and the "simplicity of (her) soul," she states that she has reached "without discussion or effort, a clear conviction on questions of faith." "The heart presses me to say these things again, and to indicate to my brothers the way of salvation and peace." (3) She goes on to detail her early support for the revolution and its values of liberty and progress. Like the nun in the earlier pamphlet, the key moment of transition for her was the institution of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the resulting schism in the Church. She tells the story of the moral conundrum she faced, and her quest to determine which side she ought to support. During the course of her soul-searching, she visits a church run by the new "constitutional" clergy. She comments on their inexperience and poor quality. She also notes their young ages and their corrupted mores, notably including the violation of their sacred celibacy with "monstrous marriages." (11) As a result of these factors and others, "everything became dead and cold in our churches" and people came to attend church due to habit, not due to feeling. "How is this reform?" she asks indignantly, "Is this what was promised?" (12) She addresses God himself, asking how it is possible that the ostensible regeneration of the Church has resulted in the removal from office of the true men of God. She faces a momentary crisis of faith, but "my God, your hand was on your servant; you were just as ardent to pursue me as I was ingenious to escape you."(12)

With some much-needed divine inspiration, she goes to meet with the "refractory" or non-juring clergy. She is immediately impressed by their courage in the face of persecution. They are characterized by sweetness and genuine commitment to their consciences, and are apparently devoid of the negative features ascribed to the constitutional clergy. She describes their suffering at length. Forced out of their jobs, they live on the charity of the faithful. Treated as pariahs, they are under a constant threat of violence from the population. In spite of everything, the refractory priests she meets are marked by strength and a spirit of sacrifice that convinces her of their sincerity and their moral correctness. She characterizes the stereotype that priests favor the monarchy and counter-revolution as a "ridiculous accusation" also unfairly applied to the poor, orphans and children. (15)

She questions one of the refractory priests on why he prefers his wretched state to signing the oath. He responds that he is content and that his conscience is at peace. "For me salvation is better than good fortune.î Impressed by the authority of his speech and his ìmartyrís zeal," she then decides to meet with a constitutional priest to hear his side of the story. She confronts him, and receives a mocking and condescending reply couched firmly in the language of reason and enlightenment. In response to her assertion of her views on scripture, he replies, "oh, oh, so you are a theologian! Well then! Madame, since you seem so knowledgeable, let's see how you reply to some little arguments that Iíve prepared for you!" (22) He goes on to make a series of esoteric theological claims that seek to undermine the historical authority of the Pope and other concepts of importance to traditionalist Catholics. To support his claims, he cites a vast body of sources and appears to think himself quite the intellectual. In response, the pamphlet's author declares that his argument, couched in the terms of enlightenment and reason, is in fact composed of "sophistries and errors." (23) Finding herself unable to understand and refute the priest's argument on his own terms, she decides that his true intent was to dazzle her with a "useless erudition" (24) and thus confuse her into accepting falsehoods. This anti-intellectual note is echoed several times in the piece, as she criticizes, "that vain science that nourishes a curiosity that is even more vain." (24) The vain science in question is likely similar to that "new philosophy" opposed by the nun in the prior pamphlet. The author determines that people are often misled by constitutional priests because of their dishonest deployment of the language of enlightenment.

Realizing the importance of her choice between the two sides for the salvation of her soul, she experiences a feeling of despair. She consults a book entitled The Thoughts of Father Bourdelou for guidance, and determines that the doctrine of the "infallible teachings" of the church has the "je ne sais quoi of the divine." She describes how Catholic dogma feels, to her, "born of all of the old thoughts regarding religion and God" and she argues in favor of the timeless values of "renunciation of myself, denial of my own light, a child's simplicity and submission to my superiors." (28) She realizes that "the authority of the church must be truly expressed." In order to assure this, the so-called "constitutional clergy" must be exposed as being in error and thus heretics.(29) She concludes, "now, reason whoever may, dispute whoever dares; for me, I am with the Church, I march with the Church, obedience suits me better than science, my submission instructs me better than all the books in the world." (31) Praising "virtuous ignorance" and the light of common sense, she describes herself as lost and found again.(32-33) After an intense conversion experience in which she "prostrated myself on the paving stones of the church," uttering a "profound and tender" prayer. (34)

Armed with the simple truth of her religion, she finds herself compelled to spread the word. She is forced to confront her rationalist and pro-revolutionary husband, the first mention of whom occurs nearly at the end of the pamphlet. She is compelled to honest with him, realizing that although she loves him she loves Christ more. Confident and candid, she describes her experiences to her husband with sweetness and humility. He responds with violent anger to her conversion, accusing her of being a fanatic.(36) However, she holds up under pressure and eventually impresses him with her ardent faith and peaceful bearing. She convinces him not with reasons but with "sentiments," meeting anger with love in good Christian form. Putting the lie to his stereotypical understanding of ultramontanes, she eventually convinces him to convert as well. Through faith, she exercises power over not only his faith but also his politics and his entire worldview. (37) Her husband, however, approaches his faith from a place of reason and becomes well educated on religious matters, as is his right as a man. His faith, "quite rare among the men of the world," impresses his wife.

The pamphlet concludes with an exhortation to Catholics to "live like him (Jesus) because we are persecuted like him." She notes that she and her husband rarely speak of "affairs of state.î"They "defy the exaggerated combinations of a profane politics. The hand of men seems to us too fragile to place our confidence and our support in." (39) Abandoning the simple and strident monarchism of the prior pamphlet, she instead argues for disengagement from politics and a basic acceptance of the new republican order. Her opposition to the state is conditional upon the state's unwarranted meddling in religious matters. Thus she, unlike the nun in the prior pamphlet, appears to have accepted the liberal construct of the separation of church and state and deploys that reasoning in defense of her faith rather than seeing it as a threat.

She concludes: "Oh my errant brothers! I place these lines into your hands with confidence that I have traced, without art, in the abandon of my burning charity. I retire and leave you face-to-face with God, who you will speak (with) better than I, if you know how to ask and to listen. I return forever into the silence that suits my sex, befitting my ignorance, and that is imposed upon my by the memory of my too-long infidelity." (39) This line, addressed (like the entire pamphlet) to the men of France, contains a number of possible readings. On one hand, she has agreed to silence herself on political and religious matters, having said her piece. Yet her real and potential influence over men (as evidenced by her conversion of her husband) is considerable, and the pamphlet suggests that exercising that influence is righteous path for women of the world like her. In the realm of the conscience, there is room not only for women's wills to be realized but for women to exercise power over men and to influence political processes. The defiantly masculine "virtue" and philosophy of the republic is thus contrasted to (and shown to be in conflict with) the peaceful and loving (traditionally feminine) virtues of the Church and Christian faith, and ultimately powerless against them. Taken together, these two pamphlets in the voices of French Catholic women provide a unique counterpoint to the usual telling of the story of the French revolution, bringing into focus the particular challenges faced by women and people of faith when confronted by a new regime that was often hostile to both faith and femininity.

For more information about the collection, please visit the online finding aid.
description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History
1 See, for example: Darnton, Robert and Roche, Daniel ed. Revolution in Print: The Press in France 1775-1800. (University of California Press, 1989)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

William Lloyd Garrison collection

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis is fortunate to house a small but intriguing collection of papers relating to Boston’s famed radical white abolitionist and newspaper publisher, William Lloyd Garrison.1 A gift of Philip D. Sang, the William Lloyd Garrison collection consists of lecture and editorial manuscripts, handwritten lecture notes, and numerous letters from Garrison, his family, and his many supporters (including numerous well-known nineteenth-century reformers). Written before, during, and after the American Civil War, these papers illuminate Garrison’s tireless efforts to abolish slavery and inequality in the United States.
In speaking of William Lloyd Garrison, historian David W. Blight has said “there is no more significant reformer in the nineteenth century.”2 Similarly, Henry Mayer, Garrison’s modern biographer, declared that “Garrison occupies a place as central in the history of the nineteenth century as that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the history of the twentieth.”3 Yet Garrison’s upbringing far from predicted his future leadership. William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on December 12, 1805. Fathered by an immigrant sailor who soon abandoned his family, Garrison was raised in poverty, gaining most of his education only as a teenager when a printer’s apprenticeship afforded him access to texts with which to educate himself. From an early age, Garrison was also influenced by his mother’s unswerving Baptist beliefs in Christian morality and righteousness—beliefs that became the root of Garrison’s future championing of universal civil rights.

William Lloyd Garrison’s strong moral standards led him to become an active and vocal abolitionist at a very early age. By 1830, Garrison had shifted to the most radical of abolitionist views, calling for the immediate, complete, and universal emancipation of all slaves (by contrast, many early abolitionists supported more gradual emancipation). To further his cause, on January 1, 1831, Garrison printed the inaugural edition of The Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper. Soon after, Garrison helped to found the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and then, in 1833, the broader American Anti-Slavery Society. The Liberator immediately began to promote the platforms of these organizations. Gaining popularity and notoriety in equal measure over the following decades, The Liberator was published weekly without break through December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, finally abolishing slavery in the United States.

Over the course of its 34-year run, The Liberator focused primarily on anti-slavery issues and events. In Brandeis’s Garrison collection, one can follow the progression of these matters through Garrison’s often fiery notes, editorials, and speeches, which praise various anti-slavery causes and supporters even as they rail against anti-slavery detractors.

Similarly, the collection reflects Garrison’s practice of supporting many non-abolitionist causes that he felt were related to his greater goal of universal equality and civil rights. Garrison was an early champion of woman suffrage, as seen in his declaration: “where men only are allowed to vote, to say it is a government by, of, and for the people is equally ridiculous.” Garrison also expressed his anticlerical views that “no man and no book be our master,” based in his belief that organized religion too often acted as a bulwark of slavery. Other writings in the collection detail Garrison’s long-held belief in pacifism and passive resistance; his briefer support of disunion (Northern secession) and election boycotts (to protest national support of slavery); his respect for spiritualism; his emphasis on temperance; and his unflagging conviction that African Americans should not only be free but also attain civil rights equal to those of all other Americans.

Some of the later writings in the Garrison collection show both Garrison’s prescient wisdom and his growing impatience over the speed of social and governmental change. As the Civil War was drawing to a close with Union victory, Garrison wrote:

"We confess that we shudder at the thought that, possibly, through timidity or lack of principle, the present glorious opportunity to put an end to slavery may be allowed to pass unimproved by the Government, and that there may be a renewal or reconstruction of the old ‘covenant with death and agreement with hell,’ to the further demoralization of the nation, the longer supremacy of the Slave Power, and the ultimate outbreak of another civil war with heavier judgments and under more appalling circumstances."

Even as the U.S. Congress adopted the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery, Garrison wrote more about his fears for the future, warning that “slavery is abolished, but its cruel spirit still lives. Nothing but that spirit stands in the way of Southern peace and prosperity.” Though the U.S. Supreme Court’s segregationist “separate but equal” ruling and a full-fledged Jim Crow South were still decades off, Garrison’s words demonstrate his recognition that the abolition of slavery was only the first step in a long and difficult battle for universal civil rights.

The Garrison collection speaks not only to the social causes Garrison advocated so vigorously, but also to the ramifications of such controversial opinions. While some saw Garrison as a visionary, or even a prophet, others saw him as a dangerous and heretical fanatic. Garrison was certainly not afraid to offend those he opposed. Thrown into jail for libel early in his abolitionist career, Garrison was unrepentant in his radical views. Despite a near-lynching by a mob in Boston in 1835, Garrison continued to be outspoken, both in person and in print. Included in the Garrison collection is a note expressing Garrison’s outrage over a newspaper’s downplayed account of a mob attack on a Garrison-led meeting. Other writings in the collection consist of angry rebuttals of ministers, government leaders, and businessmen who opposed Garrison.

Garrison’s critics were not just from the pro-slavery camp. Garrison’s demands for moral perfectionism over pragmaticism, along with his insistence on friends’ loyalty to each and every one of his own radical beliefs, caused him to lose many of his initial supporters. Notes, letters, and lectures in the Garrison collection give testament to the fact that Garrison was unafraid of publicly criticizing, even denouncing, peers in the anti-slavery cause when he felt they strayed from the “proper” course.

In 1865, Garrison’s contentious and uncompromising beliefs finally led him and the American Anti-Slavery Society (along with a number of Garrison’s former friends) to go their separate ways. A subsequent 1866 testimonial drive dedicated to providing Garrison with a retirement pension brought mixed results. Letters in the Garrison collection detail the reluctance of some former supporters to contribute to Garrison’s upkeep, in light of their recent disagreements. Letters of praise also abound from old abolitionist friends, including Caroline Weston (on behalf of Harriet Beecher Stowe), Rev. Samuel J. May, Jr., James M. McKim, and Edmund Quincy, among others. In addition, a public announcement of the testimonial drive resulted in support from some unexpected sources, including Union General Francis C. Barlow, who wrote of “how much reverence and how grateful I feel to Mr. Garrison and those who have worked with him.” Perhaps the most surprising of the letters came from an anonymous contributor, who wrote how he had “hooted” at Garrison thirty years before, but was “compelled… to honor and laud him since.”

William Lloyd Garrison retired in 1865, closing down The Liberator and resigning his presidency of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Yet, as the Garrison collection confirms, the activist relinquished neither his causes nor his pen in the last years of his life. In an 1866 letter to his son Frank, Garrison wrote, “I have just sent an article to the Independent, urging the impeachment of the President. Congress will hardly have the courage to make the attempt. The tone of the Southern press is as arrogant and treasonable as it was in 1860.” Even in retirement, with declining health, Garrison maintained his radical progressive stance, though it would be two years before Congress agreed with him and successfully impeached President Andrew Johnson.

In a note within the Garrison collection, Garrison defended his uncompromising lifelong commitment to reform, in face of great opposition, saying:

"It is not true that whatever public sentiment opposes is reformative in its nature or tendency; but it is certainly true that every reform, ab initio, finds public sentiment arrayed against it, in proportion to its importance and the dimensions of the wrong to be overcome."

To his death in 1879, William Lloyd Garrison believed wholeheartedly in the all-encompassing importance of universal civil rights. Despite the critiques of friends and foes, Garrison thus remained unapologetic in his actions and writings. Brandeis’s William Lloyd Garrison collection offers a small window on Garrison’s radical views, along with the controversies they raised. In turn, through this single abolitionist’s example, the collection reveals much about the means and determination necessary to achieve lasting social reform.

For more information about the collection, please visit the online finding aid.

description by Anne Marie Reardon, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History

1. For general background and discussion regarding William Lloyd Garrison, see Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), and James Brewer Stewart, ed., William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).
2. David W. Blight, “William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred: His Radicalism and His Legacy for Our Time,” in William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred, 1.
3. Mayer, All on Fire, 631.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bernice and Henry Tumen collection

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis University houses 177 Jewish ceremonial objects, as well as rare Israeli coins and books on Judaica and Jewish ceremonials, given by Bernice and Henry J. Tumen in 1981. The collection principally showcases nineteenth- and twentieth-century religious artifacts, although it also contains Roman glass and clay pieces from the first to the fourth century. The ceremonials in the collection originate from many parts of Europe and the Near East, as well as areas of North Africa and America.

The collection grants researchers direct “confrontation with objects embodying Jewish culture and history,” and attests to the Jewish importance of the prescription of ritual needs.1 Individually, these items illustrate the significance of the use of beauty in the performance of commandments and serve as tangible witnesses to the love of God and Torah. Collectively, they illuminate the communities and environments that informed, challenged, and stimulated their creation and application. The history of Jewish ceremonial art and objects expresses itself within the historical experiences of Jews living among diverse cultures in dynamic and complex lands. As Jews constructed and understood their religio-cultural identities, they did so as a minority group that attempted to reconcile traditional religious duty with a surrounding folk-art influence. The works of Jewish ceremonial art in this collection reflect this tension and illuminate the artistic expression that blossomed under the constraints of fulfilling the requirements of Jewish Law.

Rabbi and scholar Arthur Hertzberg maintains that “Judaism is a way of life that endeavors to transform virtually every human action into a means of communion with God.”2 The ritual objects that accompany ceremonies and festivals become the most tangible expressions of this relationship. As public displays of religious observance, these ceremonials were carefully and beautifully constructed. Jewish communities cite a rabbinic interpretation of Exodus 15:2, “This is my God, and I will glorify him,” as the impetus for hidur mitzvah, performing religious commandments in the most beautiful manner possible. Not an exception to the rule, the Bernice and Henry Tumen collection contains intricate silverwork and incorporates precious gemstones. A nineteenth-century Torah crown fashioned from red velvet includes seed pearls and floral designs, and an ivory European Torah pointer is decorated in silver with an inset turquoise stone. None of these Torah ornaments would have been viewed as “merely a utilitarian device”; instead the “beauty in [these] works of art symbolized the exalted position of the Torah in Jewish life.”3 It is no coincidence that their artistic beauty derives from an understanding that religious experience is “more commonly absorbed through the senses than through the intellect.”4 Interestingly, the text Ma’aseh Efod of Profiat Duran of Spain (also known as Isaac ben Moses ha-Levi, circa 1360 to circa 1414) concludes that it is through the theme of aesthetic value in religious ceremony that one gains intelligence:

Study should always be in beautiful books, pleasant for their beauty and the splendor of their scripts and parchments, with elegant ornament and covers. And the places for study should be desirable, the study halls beautifully built so that people’s love and desire for study will increase. Memory will also improve since contemplation and study occur amidst beautifully developed forms and beautiful drawings, with the result that the soul will expand and be encouraged and strengthen its powers. . . . It is also obligatory and appropriate to enhance the books of God and to direct oneself to their beauty, splendor, and loveliness. Just as God wished to adorn the place of His Sanctuary with gold, silver, and precious stones, so is this appropriate for His holy books, especially for the book which is “His Sanctuary” [the Bible].5

Immense efforts were made to produce beautiful items and beautiful scrolls “written in good ink, with good pens, by competent scribes, and covered with fine silks.”6

This yearning for holy beauty on earth continued with the emergence of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, as one finds amulets and talismans growing in popularity. Jewish amulets, emphasizing religious texts and names, were worn for purposes of protection (against sickness, misfortune, and the “evil eye”). Many of the pieces in this collection can be worn as an ornament and contain the word Shaddai or the Hebrew letter shin. It should be noted that while amulets were quite popular among the medieval European and early modern Mediterranean Jewish population, they have been frequently denounced by some rabbinical authorities as mere superstition.

The various intercultural factors that inspired Jewish ceremonial art are also well documented. This collection contains Christian, Dutch, Greek, and Islamic influences, to name a few. One can find a nineteenth-century Christian censer transformed into a Jewish spice box, a hexagonal Dutch dreidel inscribed with Latin letters, and a nineteenth-century Near Eastern menorah backplate with nine mihrabs. (In the mosque a mihrab indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, and therefore should be the direction of prayer). Additionally, the collection’s spice containers display an unmatched receptiveness to outside influence. No other ritual object shows “as many variations as the spice container.”7 There is no Jewish law that dictates what kind of box should be used, and, moreover, no law describing which type of spice should be contained. During the Havdalah ceremony, sweet spices are employed to counteract the sadness of Shabbat’s departure and to remember the joy of the holiday. The oldest pieces preserved have “the well-known tower form which originated in the tower-like incense containers of the Near East.” In the medieval period in Western countries,“spices were very precious and therefore kept in the tower of the city fortification, which makes it understandable that the medieval tower was reproduced for the spice containers in the European west.”8 From the sixteenth century on, Christian smiths crafted a large portion of the spice boxes in Europe and used forms familiar to them from Catholic ritual objects. In a 1558 notation in a silversmith’s book, the smith explains he has crafted a Jewish “monstrance”—a style that “reflects the Gothic architectural forms used in church ritual items of the time.”9

Linda A. Altschuler and Anna R. Cohn in “The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections” contemplate the continuity of the Jewish experience:

"The artifacts are from another time and place. Yet most of these objects would be as much at home in Jewish life today as in any time gone by. […] While the artistic forms of Jewish ceremonial art vary in response to the different periods and environments in which they are made, the functions of Judaic objects are rooted in time-honored laws and traditions.10"

The items in the Bernice and Henry Tumen collection speak to a living tradition—a tradition that explains, “All things of the natural world provide opportunities for sanctification” from birth to death.11 In an attempt to sanctify time and remember history, the physical and spiritual natures of humanity are inseparable. The spiritual has the power to inform the physical, which in turn attempts to recreate the spiritual. As Abraham Joshua Heschel remarks, “We cannot make [God] visible to us, but we can make ourselves visible to [God].”12
The Bernice and Henry Tumen collection demonstrates the complex interactions between tradition and continuity and art and beauty in the substance of everyday life. This collection represents an invaluable resource for any student of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European Jewish history, intercultural studies, religious ceremonies and ceremonials, Jewish symbols and superstitions, silverwork and jewelry studies, and even the art of collecting itself.

For more information regarding the Bernice and Henry Tumen collection, please consult the finding aid, available here.

A portion of the Tumen collection is on display in the cases on the mezzanine level of Goldfarb Library.

description by Zachary Fine Albert, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and M.A. candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

1. Mann, Vivian B. and Bilski, Emily D. The Jewish Museum New York. Scala Books, 1993, 18.
2. Hertzberg, Arthur. Judaism. New York: Braziller, 1961, 73-74.
3. Altshuler, David, ed. The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections. New York: Summit Books, 1983, 122.
4. Kanof, Abram. Jewish Ceremonial Art and Religious Observance. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1970, 9.
5. Duran, Profiat. Sefer Ma’aseh Efod. Vienna: Yom-Tov Friedlander and Jacob haKohen, 1891, 19.
6. B. Shabbat 133b. (Babylonian Talmud)
7. Kayser, Stephen S., ed. Jewish Ceremonial Art. The Jewish Publication Society of America: Philadelphia, 1955, 89.
8. Ibid., 89.
9. The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art. "Permanent Collection – Ritual Objects."
10. Altschuler, ed. The Precious Legacy. New York: Summit Books, 1983, 207.
11. Ibid., 207.
12. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. Man’s Quest for God. New York, 1954, 5.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center’s Samuel Gridley Howe Library collections

Brandeis University’s Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department houses a wide array of material from the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center’s Samuel Gridley Howe Library. This collection includes several hundred books from scholars and experts in the fields of science, medicine, and disabilities; the papers of Irving Kenneth Zola and of Rosemary and Gunnar Dybwad; and thousands of pamphlets, case studies, and journals on topics ranging from what were then called feeble-mindedness and cretinism to eugenics and crime. The material, which dates from the 1810s to the 1950s and is related primarily to North America and the United Kingdom, was compiled by the Howe Library from the school superintendent’s library as well as international libraries. It includes works from world-renowned doctors such as psychologists Alfred Binet and Edgar A. Doll, polymaths Francis Galton and his protégé Karl Pearson, Walter E. Fernald, Dorothea Dix (who championed for the rights of the indigent insane), Ellis Island medical officer Howard Knox, and eugenicists Charles B. Davenport and Henry H. Goddard, among hundreds of others. The Samuel G. Howe Library Collection’s academic scope is vast and will be of interest to historians of science and medicine, anthropologists, sociologists, and people with disabilities and their families.

Founded in South Boston in 1850 (with the help of an appropriation from Massachusetts two years earlier) by physician and abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe and medical activist Dorothea Dix, the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feebleminded Youth, eventually known as the Walter E. Fernald State School, became the United States’ first institution, and oldest publicly-funded thanks to an appropriation from the Massachusetts Legislature, for so-called “feebleminded” boys and girls (the term included all types or grades of mental, moral, and physical disabilities characterizing various groups, from the profound “idiot” up to individuals who possessed attributes but little below the normal standard of human intelligence). By the late 1860s, Dr. Howe’s educational reforms for his mentally disabled patients were quite successful and influenced similar institutions throughout North America. At an 1887 conference, Dr. F.M. Powell described how schools for the feeble-minded could best help students who were in desperate need of education and reform and the difficulties categorizing individuals:

“The range of capacity characterizing the pupils in the educational department may be almost as varied as their number, each possessing an individuality; but, in a school with two hundred or more children, a satisfactory gradation of classes can be made, by leaving a remnant, possessing more than ordinary peculiarities or eccentricities, to be assigned to special classes for instruction through individual methods. In the graded division, class training is restored, more especially in groups made up of pupils nearest the normal standard of intellect, individual methods being more necessary as we approach the lower grades.”1

Powell’s argument that “moronic” pupils, while possessing unique “peculiarities,” should be divided into grades, like a typical public primary school, was based on Howe’s school and served as an example of how to serve those most in need of help.

Howe’s method of education provided the residents with the means to earn wages, live freely, and return to their respective communities and even live independently.

Yet many citizens believed because these “idiots”—a polite term for those with mental disabilities at the time—did so well that they should remain in the school, permanently incarcerated at one of the dozen similar institutions in the Western Hemisphere. Dr. Howe, the school’s superintendent, vehemently opposed permanent institutionalization, as he believed that once the students learned basic education, they could be rehabilitated back into society as “decent” citizens.

When Howe retired in 1874, Edward Jarvis, an authority on vital statistics, became the school’s second superintendent. As the Commonwealth saw the school rehabilitate the residents with mental subnormalities into high-functioning disabled youths, it was pressured to admit disabled adults, delinquent youths, and even children from broken or poor homes.

In fact, if a poverty-stricken family decided that the best place for one or all of their children was outside the home, the likelihood of them residing at the Walter E. Fernald School—with patients who were deemed schizophrenic, mongoloids, cretins, epileptic, and feeble-minded—was high.

At the time, poverty was associated with prostitution and idiocy, so lower-class, uneducated women were the first to be deemed unstable and promiscuous. These women were discouraged from bearing children and were often encouraged to use birth control. Alice Weld Tallant’s speech at an American Academy of Medicine conference details a fascinating conclusion regarding delinquent girls who were committed to schools like Fernald by the courts around the turn of the century:

“Delinquent girls are as a class undoubtedly physically defective, and this must have some bearing on their moral condition. I will therefore modify my opinion far enough to state that delinquency, although certainly connected with poor physical condition, is not its direct result. Rather do the two conditions go hand in hand because they are both results of the same factors, lack of care and oversight at home, broken homes, poor food, neglect, child-labor, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions and indecent overcrowding of the homes. In combating these conditions which make for physical degeneracy, we cannot help but strike a blow against moral delinquency.”2

Tallant’s argument advanced a popular idea held at the time: the relationship between delinquency and degeneracy, the mental and the physical. Doctors believed that with the right schooling and proper reform they could tackle both problems at the same time.

With government pressure to add adults and wayward children, it became clear that the Fernald school needed more space. So in 1887, with a legislative appropriation of $25,000, the school moved to a hilled neighborhood in Waltham, Massachusetts, that would eventually encompass over 190 acres of land between Trapelo Road and Waverly Oaks Road.3 What started as a school became a self-contained community: shop courses trained children for farm and industry work; daily education was mandatory; shoe repair, rug making, knitting, sewing, weaving, and housekeeping classes allowed students to learn a trade; and dancing and athletics classes allowed them to stay fit. All the while the objective was the same: after acquiring basic academic and job skills, residents were expected to graduate to a life beyond the institution.

While the Howe approach to teaching and training the students continued to be effective, medical arguments and public opinion about them began to change around the turn of the century. Additionally, the school’s third superintendent, Walter E. Fernald, a world-renowned expert on mental retardation, did not did not agree with Howe’s rehabilitation program. By the 1910s, Darwin’s theories of natural selection and a revived interest in Mendelian genetics led many scientists to argue that human traits such as intelligence and morality were biologically rooted. Moreover, under Fernald’s guidance the school took a more scientific stance on the mentally disabled, a phenomenon that gained momentum throughout the Western world. Specifically, the doctor adhered to the fast-rising international bio-social movement called eugenics.

Eugenicists had rediscovered the work of Gregor Mendel. In the mid 1800s, Mendel recorded the results of cross-breeding pea plants and found a very regular statistical pattern for features like height and color. This introduced the concept of genes and research in the field of genetics. One path of genetic research branched off into the study of social theory known as eugenics. It was presented as a mathematical science that could be used to predict the traits and behaviors of humans and to control human breeding, so individuals with the best genes would reproduce, thereby improving the species; this was often done by tracing family histories. At the same time, state officials began to encourage social-service agencies, courts, and police to send suspected “morons” for IQ testing based on the Binet-Simon intelligence test; people of color, Jews, southern Europeans, developmentally disabled people, and the rural poor were particularly vulnerable to being labeled as “polluting the gene pool of society.” Those who scored below normal would be admitted to state schools, as they were deemed a danger to the public, and would, as a matter of public policy, be prevented from reproducing. Throughout the process, physicians were viewed by many as their nation’s defenders. It was good for America and it was good for the human race—that was the message. Most of all, the movement saw itself as an optimistic school of thought that relied on the strength of science.

In 1910, C.B. Davenport highlighted eugenic policy with a powerful, thought-provoking proclamation. The doctor declared,

“Governments spend scores of thousands of dollars and establish rigid inspections to prevent the spread of the coitus disease of the horse but the Spirochete parasite that causes corresponding disease in man and entails endless misery on hundreds of thousands of innocent children may be disseminated by any body, and is being disseminated by scores of thousands of persons in this country, unchecked, under the protection of the ‘personal liberty’ flag. Alas! That so little thought is had to the loss of liberty of the infected children. Marriage of persons with venereal disease is not only unfit; it is a hideous and dastardly crime; and its frequency would justify a medical test of all males before marriage, innocent as well as guilty.”4

Davenport’s words were meant to upset citizens and motivate them to take action against those who were deemed a menace to society. Another eugenicist, Henry H. Goddard, based the pursuit of the “moron” on fear and mobilization of the masses. In 1916, he declared,

“we need to hunt them out in every possible place and take care of them, and see to it that they do not propagate and make the problem worse, and that those who are alive today do not entail loss of life and property and moral contagion in the community by the things they do because they are weak minded.”5

Goddard was not exaggerating in his proclamation to hunt down those who were deemed unfit by society. Several states created so-called traveling clinics that administered IQ tests at public schools around the nation. Many of the clinics labeled children as feebleminded, even though their teachers and parents insisted that they were normal. The clinics separated the children from their families by convincing the parents that an institution offered their children the best possible future. Those families who did not volunteer their children for admission often lost custody of them in court.

After Fernald’s death, in 1924, his mission of scientific investigation and the inclusion of poor, delinquent, orphaned, and epileptic people in the institution continued under the next superintendent, Dr. Ransom Greene. It is worth noting, however, that this period in science and medicine was not filled entirely with specialties that history deems quackery and pseudoscience. Indeed, major positive breakthroughs occurred in fields such as war neurosis, endocrinology, and rights for the handicapped.

During and after World War I (1914-1918), soldiers who suffered from war neurosis, or shellshock, constituted a subgroup of veterans. Their situation illustrated the wider difficulties of World War I returnees. Whether disabled or fully fit, each veteran faced a cluster of problems related to the psychological and social readjustment to civilian society. Moreover, war neurosis forced physicians to conclude that otherwise normal people would break down under sufficient stress. Thus it brought into question previous ideas of degeneration, which implied that there was a split between the healthily normal and the diseased portions of humanity.

Encouraged by the civil rights and women’s rights movement, the disability rights movement began in the 1960s. Handicapped advocacy began to have a cross-disability focus: that is, people with different kinds of disabilities—mental and physical handicaps, along with hearing and visual impairments—and a multitude of other essential needs came together to fight for a common cause. Two individuals who were in the forefront of this movement, Irving Kenneth Zola and Gunnar Dybwad, had ties to both the Howe Library and Brandeis University.

Zola was an internationally renowned sociologist and writer who specialized in medical sociology and disabilities studies. He was the Mortimer Gryzmish Professor of Human Relations at Brandeis University from 1963 until his death, in 1994. As a founding member of the Society of Disability Studies and the first editor of Disability Studies Quarterly, he was an advocate for those with disabilities. The Zola collection at Brandeis contains articles, essays, speeches, correspondence, course materials, subject files, reviews, and published interviews, among other material. Topics include aging and disability, the disabled in literature, disability in the workplace, and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Gunnar Dybwad was a celebrated human-rights advocate, lawyer, and administrator who was an authority on autism, retardation, and cerebral palsy. He was the Professor of Human Development at Brandeis University and founder of the Starr Center for Mental Retardation at Brandeis’s Heller School as well as founder of the Autism National Committee. Dybwad is also known as one of the first in the world to frame mental disability as a civil rights matter, rather than as a medical or social-work problem. He was involved in several lawsuits in federal courts advocating civil rights for the mentally disabled.

The Howe Library collection at Brandeis also includes material on the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, a vast amount of international literature on disabilities collected by Gunnar and Rosemary Dybwad, subject files on all number of relevant topics amassed by both Dybwad and Zola, material on self-advocacy, awards and photographs, hundreds of pamphlets on disability studies from the 1870s to the 1950s, and a collection of historical books on similar subjects, many of which have been digitized and are available on the Internet Archive.

description by Aaron Wirth, PhD candidate in History

1 Powell, F.M., The Care and Training of Feeble-minded Children, 14th National Conference of Charities and Correction, Omaha, NE, August, 1887.

2 Tallant, Alice Weld, “A Medical Study of Delinquent Girls,” speech read at the thirty-seventh annual meeting of the American Academy of Medicine, Atlantic City, May 31, 1902.

3 Globe staff, “Waltham’s Fernald School to Close,” The Boston Globe, December 10, 1998.

4 Davenport, C.B., Eugenics: the Science of Human Improvement by Better Breeding, Henry Hold and Company, New York, 1910.

5 Goddard, Henry, “The Menace of Mental Deficiency from the Standpoint of Heredity,” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 175, number 8, August 24, 1916.

6 Barker, Lewellys F., “Endocrinology,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, July 8, 1922, volume 79.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jack J. and Therese G. Katz collection of Chinese snuff bottles

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis houses 47 Chinese snuff bottles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Brandeis acquired this collection from Jack J. and Therese G. Katz in December of 1964. Snuff bottles became popular in China after the introduction of tobacco by Europeans in 1537. The Chinese used snuff as a form of medication and often converted old medicine bottles into snuff carriers. The production of snuff bottles in China flourished between 1622 and 1795, and the bottles became a luxury item and a common gift. Most snuff bottles were small—between 2 and 3 inches high—and designed to be carried on the person in a small silk pouch. They came in various shapes and were made from several different types of material, including glass, ivory, jade, metal, porcelain, quartz, and various types of coral. Most included a tight stopper and a small spoon used to withdraw snuff from the bottle. The beautiful designs and ornate decorations painted on and carved into the snuff bottles partly accounts for their popularity and collectability. After 1882, a highly-skilled technique called “inside painting” became popular.The nearby images of a crystal inside-painted snuff bottle show, on one side, a scholar in a blue robe admiring a chrysanthemum spray in bloom below a short poem. On the other side, the artist, Ma Shao-Hsuan, included a longer poem, which reads:

It is not so that I love the chrysanthemum more than the other flowers;
But I believe that there will be no more flowers after this one has bloomed.

Poets’ ease it is to write nature poems in the spring,
But if they look for a brocade-like flower garden in the fall
When willow’s green is half-turned to gold;
All they will be are ill-successful flower seekers.

Also in the collection is a jade snuff bottle in the shape of a large cicada, or locust, with a greenish stomach, reddish-brown wings, and a head with black spots. The creature symbolized reincarnation. Jade, or “yu,” means “gem supreme” and was a favorite stone of China and used in many decorative arts. The jade in this bottle dates back to the Sung period (960-1279 C.E.) Glass represents one of the more common materials of Chinese snuff bottles; glass bottles appear in several forms, including monochrome, painted, cameo, mottled, or glass imitations of other stones. The nearby image of a glass snuff bottle with interior painting shows a portrait of a Manchu man wearing a winter coat and round hat.
Other materials used to make snuff bottles include turquoise, mother of pearl, ivory, and lacquer. While most bottles were created in flattened, oval, and tubular shapes, some, like the one pictured nearby, resembled human figures.

In addition to the 47 snuff bottles, the collection also contains several hand-carved wooden stands. One example is a carved turquoise snuff bottle with a chained cover; carved dragon-head handles adorn this bottle with a chain of links connected to a Fu lion. Additionally, the bottle shows a mother and her two small children at a table before a window. Another example is a rare gold lacquer and pietra dura bottle made with amber lacquer, with a tessellated gold ground depicting a scene of three small boys picking peaches.

For more information about the Jack J. and Therese G. Katz Chinese Snuff Bottle collection, please see the finding aid.

Lilla S. Perry, Chinese Snuff Bottles: The Adventures & Studies of a Collector (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company Publishers, 1960).
Jessica Rawson, et. al., “China, §XIII, 25: Snuff bottles,” Grove Art Online. Accessed June 23, 2011.

Description by Alex Wagner Lough, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History