Welcome Timothy Frerichs’ “Shale”

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The Rare Book Room’s latest artist’s book acquisition is Timothy Freich’s creation Shale. Inspired by Agricola’s great geological work De Re Metallica (1556), Shale captures the  look and feel of the Marcellus Shale that can be found in Western New York along the shores of Lake Erie.

The front and back covers of Shale are made of a flexible rock material. The pages are hand-made papers produced from black denim. A hand-sewn Coptic binding makes the structure of this codex. Between the leaves, which look like layers of shale, digital reproductions of De Re Metallica‘s woodcut illustrations are printed onto the pages. The graduated shape cuts into the text block engender a geologic structure like that of the Marcellus Shale strata formation providing interior texture and depth to the work.

Shale joins Mr. Frerich’s Linnaeus Gardens  sketchbooks and folios in the Rare Book Room’s Book Arts Collection.

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2014 Marks the 75th Anniversary of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

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The staff of the Rare Book Room wants to remind readers of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece of realism, The Grapes of Wrath, as book lovers the world over celebrate the 75th anniversary of this Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning novel.  It is also considered the main reason that Steinbeck later won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Along with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath is referred to as the Great American Novel, and both were critically acclaimed but often banned or even burned.   As our Library Scrapbooks reveal, it was even banned at one time by our own Buffalo Public Library after its release in April of 1939.

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Steinbeck’s greatest work has certainly stood the test of time and is now generally considered a “must read” for anyone interested in the best and most influential works of the American literary canon.

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Lieut. Williams Revolutionary War Journal

First page of Lieut. Williams' journal, 1774

First page of Lieut. Williams’ journal, 1774


Recently, the Rare Book Room has digitized the original autograph manuscript of Lieutenant Richard Williams, a British Officer of the 23rd Marines, which covers the period of January 1, 1774 to September 5, 1775. Known as, A Journal : in part describing the battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, this unique manuscript was acquired during the Second World War under the generous guidance of then interim Library Director of the Grosvenor Library, Julian Park (son of Roswell Park). Published as a transcribed excerpt in 1954 by the library group, the Salisbury Club of Buffalo, Discord and civil wars was prepared for publication by our first Grosvenor Rare Book curator, Jane Van Arsdale. The journal contains detailed eyewitness accounts of several Revolutionary War battles, with lists of casualties and maneuvers used by the forces during battle. There is also a description of the ‘rebels’ using signal lights flashed from church belfries, reminiscent of Paul Revere’s famous ride.

Remarkably, Lieut. Williams was a talented artist who included several of his own charming watercolor drawings among the journal’s pages.

Illustrated page

Illustrated page

Williams also was surveyor of the map, A Plan of Boston and its environs shewing the true situation of His Majesty’s Army and also those of the rebels, 1775, available to be viewed online from the Boston Public Library’s digital collection: http://maps.bpl.org/id/rb16892. Other examples of Williams’ watercolor views are held at the Boston Public Library and the Nova Scotia Historical Society. Lieut. Williams died on May 20, 1776 after a brief but eventful life.

British Officer

British Officer

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Mythbusting “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism”

Silver SlippersThose of us of certain age may recall the suggestion that L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz allegorically  represented the Populist movement. There even was an article “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism” published in American Quarterly Fall 1968, asserting the theory. According to Henry Littlefield’s analysis in this article, Dorothy represents us and her silver shoes (for they were silver in the book although ruby in the movie) will carry us through wherever we want to go in a supposed allusion to William Jennings Bryan’s ideas about the silver standard. The path she travels is a dangerous one. Thus the gold standard represented by the yellow brick road is fraught with unforeseen perils. Carrying the “Parable of Populism” further, the lion represents Bryan himself, Oz is Washington, D.C., and the Wizard is the President–any president from Grant to McKinley–whomever happens to be in the seat of power. The Wicked Witch of the West is both the Bank and the harsher side of mother nature who imposes natural disasters on the people of the Midwest. When the Wizard ultimately leaves Oz and the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman take his place, Littlefield claims this is the farmers taking the seat of power they deserve in the Populists’ point of view. The Lion (Bryan) is King of the Forest or the “forest full of lesser politicians” according to Littlefield’s analysis. The parallels in this theory are intriguing yet, in many cases, obviously flawed.

Fast forward thirty years to the truth. Who dispels the myth that the underlying story of Oz is that of Populism?   Henry Littlefield himself admits that he only came up with the idea as a device for teaching his Mount Vernon [N.Y.] High School history students about the Populist movement and never intended his theory be taken so seriously. Littlefield explained all of this in an article “The Wizard of Allegory” in the Baum Bugle 36 (Spring 1992):24-25. Despite the flaws and tenuous connections in the Littlefield’s theory and the fact that he, the person who presented the idea, sets the record straight retracting the validity of the parallels he attempted to draw, there are still those that cling to the theory to this day. It may be that many of us missed the sequel to the intriguing story that Oz was not as innocent as it seemed. Or it may be that we choose to believe these ideas because political conspiracy theories are more interesting than innocent American fairy tales.

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A New Year to Reflect and Prognosticate?

100YearsFromNowSheetMusic copy

As we enter the new year perhaps we are more sensitive than usual to what has passed and what, we wonder, is to come. It can be very amusing to consider what those before us predicted today would be like. Think of reading George Orwell’s 1984 sometime after it was written in 1949 and then living through and after 1984. Thankfully, not everything turned out “Orwellian” although, arguably, some things did.

This piece of sheet music from the Grosvenor Room Reference Sheet Music Collection begged for consideration this new year. “A Hundred Years from Now” by Caddigan, Brennan and Story has a copyright date of 1914—exactly a hundred years from its publication date. It chorus asks “I wonder what kind of life they’ll lead a hundred years from now? I wonder whats going to be the speed a hundred years from now …”

The lyrics bemoan change–social change that is.

Picture this town that once was just a pasture,
Picture the girls who roam’d it years ago—
They were the wonderful kind you know the kind I’ve in mind
The sort of girl the world calls slow.—

Apparently the artist Starmer did not have the lyrics because he designed a cover about technological rather than social change. The cover shown above illustrates all types of aircraft and skyscrapers crowding the sky as an elfin character in the foreground peers through a collapsible telescope at this other-worldliness.

Taking this glimpse backward at something culturally meant to predict what lies ahead (for us now), we conclude that there is little point in even trying to prognosticate–socially, technologically, or otherwise–because it is beyond our imaginations by design. Happy New Year from the Grosvenor Rare Book Room!

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Lions and Tigers and Baum, oh my!

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Lyman Frank Baum [1856 – 1919] began his life and journey in Chittenango, New York, just south of Oneida Lake and east of Syracuse. His yellow brick road led him from Central New York to the Dakota Territory, Chicago and, ultimately, California. He enjoyed wealthy times and lived through lean and bankrupt times. Along the way he was a chicken breeder, printer, actor, playwright, shopkeeper, china salesman, journalist, and children’s book writer.

Baum’s life and writings are the subject of the current and exciting Grosvenor Rare Book exhibit The Wonderful Wizardry of Baum. Many are unaware that Baum wrote 13 other Oz books in his lifetime (2 published posthumously) and that he also wrote other books before and while he wrote about Oz. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been dubbed an American Fairytale and his life could be called the same with all of its remarkable highs and lows.

Come see first editions of the “Oz Canon” and some of Baum’s earlier non-Oz writings. Learn about Baum’s incredible life journey and about the illustrators of Oz. See also more recent mechanical and fine press versions of The Wizard of Oz. And walk in front of the life-size Wicked Witch of the West and she has some words for you!

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Filed under Children's literature, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Rare Book Exhibits, Uncategorized

Book Sculpture in Garden in Front of the Central Library

w_birdhouse (4)[1]Central Library staff decided to create a book sculpture–an homage to the book–and place it where those approaching the front entrance of Library and those inside looking out could see it through the seasons as an evolving member of the garden.

Though not belonging to the Rare Book Collection (and certainly NOT made of books from the Rare Book Collection!), the sculpture is another worthy demonstration of Book Art making it near and dear to Rare Book Room’s heart.

As stated before, the sculpture was a collaborative staff effort. Staff from the Maintenance Department, Graphics Department and the Grosvenor Room designed and installed this fine piece of book art [re]using superseded or duplicative books that had been discarded. Instead of destroying the no-longer-useful books, we turned them into art!

w_birdhouse (2)[1]

First Snow

First Snow

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