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“Grass cutting is sport with a VAC-U-MOW!”

August 1st, 2014

August has now arrived, and so the dog days of summer begin. The weather gets a bit steamier and we all realize summer will be over before we’re ready. So we want to pack our weekends full of fun, not full of dreaded summer chores like mowing the lawn.

Take a look back in time, to the 1950s, when Granger Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Missouri, had a patent pending for the VAC-U-MOW.

Vac-U-Mow advertising brochure, Granger Manufacturing Company, page 1

Love the outfit and shoes! Granger Manufacturing Company’s
advertising booklet for the VAC-U-MOW, circa 1950-1959.
Kansas Collection. Call Number: RH P 884. Click image to enlarge.

According to an advertising brochure that is part of Spencer’s Kansas Collection holdings, “enjoyment takes the place of drudgery with the new VAC-U-MOW — a high-power mower designed to combine maximum efficiency with utmost safety.“ Moreover, the new machine was promised to be versatile enough for a variety of landscapes: “From the neat, smooth lawn to the roughest weed patch, your VAC-U-MOW makes any grass-cutting job a pleasure. Sprouts and dandelions cut as smoothly as the finest blue grass. The garden, orchard and cemetery are easy to tend with a VAC-U-MOW.”

Image of Vac-U-Mow advertising brochure, Granger Manufacturing Company, page 2

Image of Vac-U-Mow advertising brochure, Granger Manufacturing Company, page 3

Middle and back pages of the VAC-U-MOW advertising booklet.
Kansas Collection. Call Number: RH P 884. Click images to enlarge.

The booklet goes on to promise potential customers that they can “trim right up against buildings with your VAC-U-MOW! It gets into places where the old-type, bulky mowers will not go. It cuts right up under hedges just as neatly as old-fashioned hand shears but without the hard work. Wet grass is no problem. You can use your VAC-U-MOW right after a rain. Large, rough lawns can be trimmed in a fraction of the ordinary time. No wonder users say ‘grass cutting is sport with a VAC-U-MOW’!”

An ad in The Kansas City Star newspaper on April 13, 1952 listed the price for a new VAC-U-MOW as $134.50, which seems to have made it one of the more expensive lawnmower options at the time.

Meredith Huff
Operations and Stacks Manager, Public Services

KU Anniversaries: A Cause for Celebration

July 23rd, 2014

As the University of Kansas approaches its 150th anniversary in the fall of 2015, one might be wondering how the university celebrated its previous milestones. For more recent anniversaries there was a trend of looking to the future, while the earlier ones looked to the past. What path will this anniversary follow? My guess would be a little bit of both, but only time will tell.

The Quarter-Centennial: 25th Anniversary 1890/91

KU celebrated 25 years of its history with a gathering of alumni, school and state officials, and the publication of a book (two practices that would continue for most anniversaries). The book, written by M.W. Sterling, sold for $1.00 and covered several aspects of the university’s first 25 years. One memorable section recalled some practical jokes. During commencement a grinning skeleton descended from a hole in the rafters, dancing and shaking to the band’s music. On its toe was stuck a piece of paper that read the Latin word ‘prex’. What does ‘prex’ mean you may ask? The faculty.

The Semi-Centennial: 50th Anniversary 1915/16

The 50th anniversary for KU fell during international warfare, with the United States on the brink of joining the battle. This would not be the last time that KU’s anniversary would come during a World War; only 25 years later for the Diamond Jubilee the world would be at war again. With funding restricted and bigger issues to handle, the university senate understandably decided the $4,000 price tag for a celebration in May 1916 would not be possible. Chancellor Strong said the celebration would be postponed until “ways and means” could be provided. However, the following year would prove just as restrictive and the celebration never came to be.

The Diamond Jubilee: 75th Anniversary 1940/41

Following the lack of celebration 25 years earlier, KU made up for it in a grand, five-day celebration in 1941 that took three years of planning. This included a university-wide exposition, the reopening of Dyche Museum (now the Museum of Natural History), the publication of Across the Years on Mount Oread by Robert Taft, with over 300 photographs of the campus from the previous 75 years, a song contest, symposiums, class and group reunions, dinners and entertainments which included a Coronado Entrada and Kansas Cavalcade. To make sure that the returning alumni would feel right at home again on campus, 60 young women dressed in 1866 period gowns to help visitors around campus. Plus, old fashioned hitching posts were erected and the main mode of transportation was by horse and carriage.

Photograph of representative members of the previous 75 classes at the November 9th conclave. Photo of One of the 60 young women dressed in appropriate 1866 period fashion.

Representative members of the previous 75 classes at the November 9th conclave (left) and One of the 60 young women dressed in appropriate 1866 period fashion (right). University Archives. Call Number: RG 0/6 (Photos), 1941. Click to enlarge.

Women posing in a section of the diorama in the newly reopened Dyche Museum, 1941 Photograph of a group of women showing off the horse-drawn carriages and hitching posts used for the celebration.

Some of the ladies posing in a section of the diorama in the newly reopened Dyche Museum (left); A group of women showing off the horse-drawn carriages and hitching posts used for the celebration (right). University Archives. Call Number: RG 0/6 (Photos), 1941. Click to enlarge.

Photograph of a participant in the Coronado Entrada on campus overlooking the football stadium.

A participant in the Coronado Entrada on campus overlooking the football stadium. Call Number: RG 0/6 (Photos), 1941. Click image to enlarge.

Centennial: 100th Anniversary 1965/66

To be expected, the centennial celebration was a multi-day affair just like the 75th (minus the historical gowns and hitching posts). Whereas the previous anniversary celebrated the past, this one looked to the future and was highlighted by the Inter-Century Seminar, “Man and the Future.” The seminar brought together great intellectuals who discussed and lectured on the challenges of the next one hundred years. On the other hand, Clifford S. Griffin undertook a massive compilation of the past 100 years of history in his book: The University of Kansas, A History. While thoroughly covering KU’s history, Griffin kept in mind the Centennial’s theme of “progrediamur” (let us progress) and discussed the possibilities of the university’s future.

Photograph of medallion designed by Elden Tefft, for the 1966 centennial.

Designed by Elden Tefft, the medallion showcases the Lawrence campus silhouette along the bottom. The column on the left is composed of 26 symbols: three Jayhawks; a salamander, trilobite, bee and others denote scientific accomplishments; the wheat and sunflower for Kansas; 10 points of the star signify the nine schools and college. Call Number: RG 0/5 (photos): 1966

Photograph of the official dinner for the Inter-Century Seminar, 1966

The official dinner for the Inter-Century Seminar. Call Number: RG 0/5 (photos): 1966

Quasquicentennial: 125th Anniversary 1990/91

In response to the Centennial’s Inter-Century Seminar, the 125th anniversary hosted a similar session, “Looking forward: KU and the Challenges of the Future”. The participants took into account what was predicted 25 years earlier and offered their opinions. According to one prediction from the 1966 seminar by Arthur C. Clarke, British scientist and science fiction writer, man will have established a permanent base on Mars by 2066. That doesn’t sound as crazy now as I’m sure it did just 25-50 years ago.

JoJo Palko
University Archives Intern

Creating Authority: Printing with Anglo-Saxon Type

July 17th, 2014

This week’s post comes from Amanda Luke, a recent KU graduate and a Reference Specialist at Watson Library.  Amanda is currently working toward her Master of Library Science (MLS) degree at Emporia State University.

There is a special connection between Anglo-Saxon typeface and the religious controversy that defined late sixteenth-century England. With the Church of England only decades old and tensions between Catholics and Protestants higher than ever, church officials sought to establish ties between the new Church and earlier English history. One connection manifested itself through church manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Some of these religious texts appeared in Old English, the “vulgar” or common tongue of the Anglo-Saxons, who occupied England before the Norman conquests in the eleventh century. Matthew Parker (1504-1575), Archbishop of Canterbury, was the one of the earliest proponents of Anglo-Saxon scholarship. Parker hoped that having these Anglo-Saxon manuscripts translated and printed would lend legitimacy to the new Church through ties to early English religious doctrine.

Parker’s chief interest lay in a series of Latin and Old English texts by Ælfric, an abbot who lived circa 950 – 1010. Copies of these documents had been found at the Worcester and Canterbury cathedrals (Evenden 81). These texts, which Parker’s secretary John Joscelyn likely translated, touched on the subject of the Eucharist and seemed to challenge the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, or the literal transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (Evenden 81). This rejection of Catholic doctrine was vital for Parker because it provided evidence that the current Catholic thinking was not always present in England.

Image of the title page of A Testimonie of Antiquitie (1566) Legend discussing Old English Characters in John Joscelyn's edition of AElfric's A Testimonie of Antiquitie (1566)

Left: Title page; Right: Old English characters explained.  From: Aelfric, Abbot of Eynsham. A Testimonie of Antiquitie
ſhewing the auncient fayth in the Church of England touching the ſacrament of the body and bloude of the Lord
London: Iohn Day, [1566?]. Call Number: Clubb A1566.1 Click images to enlarge.

To disseminate this claim he employed a London-based Protestant printer named John Day for an unprecedented task: the development of a typeface which included all of the special characters present in the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. The development of this Anglo-Saxon type, often just called Saxon type, was an enormous financial risk for Parker. It was estimated by modern scholar Peter Lucas that the typeface would have cost the vast sum of £200 to create (Evenden 82). The typeface which Day cast was 16 point, or slightly smaller than a great primer, a 17 point type (Clement 209). It contained fourteen lower and ten upper case Old English characters not found in the Latin alphabet (see above). It is fascinating to note the several forms of the diphthong “th” in the alphabet (eth ð and thorn þ), as well as the presence of a symbol for the word “and.”

The earliest book containing the Anglo-Saxon typeface was printed by John Day in 1566 at Parker’s request. The volume was titled A Testimonie of Antiquitie ſhewing the auncient fayth in the Church of England touching the ſacrament of the body and bloude of the Lord here publikely preached, and alſo receaued in the Saxons tyme, aboue 600. yeares agoe, and was attributed to Ælfric, the author of the text that influenced Parker. As its long title suggests, this text is a translation of an Easter sermon which touches on the communion. It was especially important to Parker because it supported his mission to legitimize the doctrines of the Church of England. The creation of the Saxon typeface to accompany the translation was, according to scholar Richard Clement, a means of further legitimizing obscure texts. He writes, “Parker’s men began to examine the manuscripts and were impressed by the visual impact of the Anglo-Saxon texts which almost jumped off the page and proclaimed their antiquity and authority to the reader” (Clement 206). Use of the Saxon typeface also helped to differentiate the Old English text from the Latin and English used in the book.


Passage on the transubstantiation (with red underlinings added). Aelfric, Abbot of Eynsham. A Testimonie of Antiquitie …].
London: Iohn Day, [1566?]. Call Number: Clubb A1566.1  Click image to enlarge.

In the image above, the volume is opened to folio 35, which contains a central moment in the Easter sermon. A printed note in the margin reads “No transubstantiation,” highlighting one of the major doctrinal connections Parker was trying to make between the historical church and the Church of England. The text in Saxon type appears on the left, and the translation appears on the right. Even if you cannot read Old English, words such as “blode” and “Christ” can be made out (see the words underlined in red).   Thus the facing page format supported the preface’s claim that everything in the translation was true and accurate.

The use of the Saxon typeface in A Testimonie of Antiquitie opened the door for the expansion of Anglo-Saxon scholarship.  To explore the subject further, visit Spencer and use its Clubb Collection of Books Printed with Anglo-Saxon Type.

Amanda Luke
KU Alumna and Reference Specialist, Watson Library

Works Cited

Clement, Richard W. “The Beginnings of Printing in Anglo-Saxon, 1565-1630.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America.91.2 (1997): 192-244. Print.

Evenden, Elizabeth. Patents, Pictures, and Patronage: John Day and the Tudor Book Trade. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008. Print.


A Brief History of the Shane-Thompson Photography Studio

July 11th, 2014

Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection is home to the Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection, which documents a fascinating family of photographers and the images they took of the town and its residents. The studio was successful for seventy-five years, despite a tragic event that should have ended it.

Photograph of Captain James Boucher Shane

James Boucher Shane. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

James B. Shane was born in Kentucky in 1840. In the early months of the Civil War he enlisted as a sergeant in the Union 16th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry. Shane served until July 1865 despite suffering serious injuries during the Atlanta Campaign of 1864: his hearing was significantly damaged by his close proximity to cannonade and he lost a leg after a rifle ball shattered his left knee.

After the war, Shane returned to Kentucky, intending to resume his legal studies. Quickly discovering that his severe hearing loss would put him at a serious disadvantage in the courtroom, he had to abandon law as a career. Having read many accounts of westward expansion, Shane left Kentucky and headed to Kansas in 1866. He eventually settled in and around what later became Dickinson County, living there for twelve years and at various times farming, teaching school, working for the railroad as a land agent, and holding various elected positions in local government.

Photograph of James Shane's railroad photography car

James Shane’s railroad photography car. Shane-Thompson
Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 500.
Click image to enlarge.

In 1878 Shane moved his family to Lawrence, Kansas, to provide his ten children with access to better schools. The following year, Shane spent three weeks with a specialist in Chicago, receiving treatments for his worsening hearing loss. The doctor had several framed photographs of famous men displayed on his office walls, and this gave Shane the idea to have his picture taken. While visiting with the photographer, Shane took an interest in the work of photography and paid the photographer $50.00 for two weeks of lessons. By the end of this time, Shane was hooked. He gave the photographer $200.00 to purchase a photography “outfit” for him and then bought a railroad car for $100.00 to use as his gallery. He returned to Lawrence with a new profession, although unfortunately his hearing was no better.

Photograph of a train depot in Lawrence, Kansas

Train depot in Lawrence, Kansas. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of a Salvation Army group

Salvation Army group. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Shane took his railroad car photo gallery around northeast Kansas and into Iowa. Eventually his wife wanted him stay closer to home, so he parked the car on Massachusetts Street in north Lawrence and bought a house on Louisiana Street. When his business outgrew the railroad car, Shane traded it for a gallery at 829 Massachusetts Street, where Brown’s Shoe Fit is today. It appears that business was quite good because within a few years Shane opened two other galleries in Lawrence, including one at 615 Massachusetts, which currently houses Quinton’s Bar and Deli. Shane also built a little processing shed made of corrugated iron next to the building at 1009 Massachusetts (now Louise’s Bar). He used this shop to re-touch and develop negatives.

 Photograph of a train wreck

Train wreck. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Lawrence, Kansas, police officer Sam Jeans

Lawrence, Kansas, police officer Sam Jeans.
Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Shane was working in his processing shed on the morning of February 25, 1902. He was taking a break and standing in the entrance of the shed when two local young men out on their lunch break walked by. They said something to Shane and he believed it to be taunting. He had lately been having quite a bit of trouble with local boys taunting and bullying him. In an attempt that Shane said was meant to scare these two, he raised the revolver he kept in his pants pocket and fired, believing he would shoot over their heads. His arm caught on the bar of the awning that covered the doorway, and the bullet hit Edgar Katherman in the back. The young man fell face forward onto the sidewalk, killed instantly, his hands still in his pockets. It is unknown if Katherman had been one of the boys picking on Shane.

Photograph of Juno Belle Shane Thompson

Juno Belle Shane Thompson. Shane-Thompson
Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 500.
Click image to enlarge.

Two weeks after Shane’s arrest, his daughter Juno Belle returned to Lawrence from Virginia to operate the gallery. She was a photographer, too, and a graduate of the Illinois College of Photography. She had been employed in a studio in Virginia that, according to a write-up in the March 8, 1902, Daily World announcing her arrival back in Lawrence, was one of the leading studios in that state.

Photograph of Herbert Thompson

Herbert Thompson’s senior picture in the
KU Jayhawker yearbook, 1910. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1910. Click image to enlarge.

While her father was being held without bail, Juno Belle ran the studio alone. She continued to do so after he was convicted and sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. Herbert Thompson became her business partner after their marriage sometime around 1907, and she taught him all she knew about photography. Together they ran the studio until Herbert’s death in 1929, after which Juno Belle again ran the studio alone until her death in 1953.

In prison, Shane was a model prisoner and put in charge of the photography studio. He was sentenced to hang, but the punishment was never carried out. In late 1912, at the age of nearly 72, his health began to decline. His daughters Myrtle, Vara, Neva, and Ella successfully petitioned the governor for their father’s parole. Shane was eventually pardoned in August 1913. He lived in Abilene with his brother for several months before returning to Lawrence, where he lived in the Savoy Hotel. He died there on December 28, 1913.

Photograph of the Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence, Kansas

Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence, Kansas. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of a Native American family

Native American family. Shane-Thompson Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500. Click image to enlarge.

Considering that Shane, Juno Belle, and Herbert Thompson operated a photography business in Lawrence for seventy-five years, and given the number of photographs and negatives in the current collection, it is believed that the Library does not have all of the photos ever taken by the studio. The collection contains photographs of Lawrence businesses, schools, events, activities, portraits and groups made by Capt. Shane, but the bulk of the collection consists of portrait photography by Juno Belle and Herbert between 1903 and 1923.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

World War I and KU: A Reflection on the 100 year Anniversary

July 3rd, 2014

June 28, 2014 marked the unofficial 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. On that day 100 years ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. That tragic moment put into motion the dominoes that would fall one month later, resulting in a war that would last four years and forever change the course of history. As the world looks back on this event, I wanted to find what connections the University of Kansas had to the Great War. Simply put: there are a lot. For this entry, I will focus on the beginnings of KU’s involvement with the war. From the Student Army Training Corps (SATC)—a forerunner of the ROTC on campus—to the first American army officer killed, KU becomes forever linked with the Great War.

Student Army Training Corps barracks, KU Campus. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Call number 0.22.89.

Overview of the SATC barracks that were constructed on campus. The barracks cost $180,000 and helped house the influx of 2,500 soldiers. University Archives, call number 0/22/89 1918. Click image to enlarge.

Student Army Training Corps classes, KU Campus. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Call number 29.0.

Group of SATC classes pose in front of Fowler Shops with the instructors in the center. Classes included carpentry, machinery, auto shop, blacksmith, telegraphy, and radio. University Archives, call number 29/0 1918.
Click image to enlarge.

The University of Kansas Graduate Magazine issues during 1917-1919 offer valuable insight about campus life before, during, and after the United States joined the war. One topic of contention was the SATC. Wanting to make itself fully available for the service of the country, while also still providing quality education to its students, the university administration struggled to produce a compromise. The result was a majority of War Department approved courses combined with a required course on “war aims” to understand the multitude of causes of the conflict. The photographs below are just a sampling of what these courses, including Red Cross classes for women, looked like on campus almost 100 years ago.

McCook Field, KU Campus. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Call number 29.0.

SATC Commander Scher talks with a group at McCook Field in 1918.
University Archives, call number 29/0 1918. Click image to enlarge.

Telegraphers. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Call number ksrl_ua_29.0_telegraphers_1918

SATC telegraph class members practice wigwagging (sending messages by moving two flags according to a code) on the University’s campus. University Archives, call number 29/0 1918. Click image to enlarge.

Of the 9 million war casualties, 129 were KU men and women. Of those 129, Dr. William T. Fitzsimmons was the first American army officer killed in the war. Fitzsimmons was born in Burlington, Kansas, graduated from the University of Kansas in 1910, and received his M.D. in 1912. A lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps, he was stationed in France at an allied hospital base. On the night of September 4, 1917, Fitzsimmons’ unit was bombed by airplanes. His death saddened and shocked the university community, bringing what seemed like a distant war immediately closer to home.

William T. Fitzsimmons. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Call number 0.22.54.

Portrait of William T. Fitzsimmons, the first KU (and American) officer to be killed in World War I.
University Archives, call number 0/22/54 1918. Click image to enlarge.

JoJo Palko
University Archives intern



Collection Snapshot: Notes from Underground …

June 27th, 2014

If you’re interested in matters Polish and Russian or in travels in Slavic lands and in sights seen through western eyes AND if you can read this page from the manuscript diary of an Englishwoman traveling in the summer of 1828 (186 years ago!), then YOU may be the person to transcribe the contents of this little volume. You will get to know “Roberta” and “Mr. Sayer” (their real names), who were her companions on the trip. We can picture Ms. English Lady settling into the pension at night to write … Inside the front cover she begins, “The weight of the statue of Peter The Great …” You’ve seen the blurb; now read the book!

Image of a page from the diary of an English woman open to entry for Warsaw, June 22, 1828.

An English Lady: An anonymous manuscript travel-diary, a detailed account of the sights, costumes, social services, village and town life, war aftermath, travel mishaps in Russia and Poland. Warsaw-Smolensk-Moscow-Novgorod-St. Petersburg. 22 June to 21 July 1828. Call Number: MS B144. Click image to enlarge.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.



Finding Aids 101

June 20th, 2014

Pillsbury Family Papers finding aid

Screenshot of the top of a Spencer finding aid for the Pillsbury Family Papers. This will be
the example finding aid used throughout this blog post. The full document
is available on the Library’s website. Click image to enlarge.

Have you ever conducted research at an archives or special collections library, come across the term “finding aid,” and wondered, “what in the world does this mean?!” If so, you’re not alone. Finding aids are a standard tool for archival materials, but most people who aren’t archivists, special collections librarians, or experienced researchers are unfamiliar with the term. On the other hand, finding aids are the gateway to archival collections – for better or worse – so understanding what they are is an important component of conducting archival research.

So, what is a finding aid?

It’s a document, on paper and/or online, created by a repository’s staff members.

It generally contains the same information found in a catalog record (an overview of the collection) plus much more detailed information that the catalog record can’t accommodate.

It describes the materials in a specific collection.

It provides contextual information about the collection.

It’s an essential tool for library staff members and researchers. Without finding aids, a library would be full of collections but have nothing written down about them. Locating and understanding collections and materials within them would be immensely difficult, if not impossible.

Who creates finding aids and why?

When a repository like Spencer acquires an archival collection, a substantial amount of work is then required to prepare the materials for use by researchers. This effort, undertaken by library staff members, is called processing. It involves going through all of the materials in the collection; organizing or arranging them in a systematic way that will facilitate use; rehousing materials in acid-free enclosures, like boxes and folders; and administering basic preservation treatments and looking out for larger problems like mold or insect damage, which is harmful to materials and users. As they work, archivists make decisions and discoveries. They record this information; combine it with details gleaned from materials in the collection, provided by the donor, or acquired through additional research; and compile everything in one place, a finding aid.

How do finding aids help researchers?

The primary goal of a finding aid is to aid, or assist, researchers (including staff members) in finding the materials they need. Hopefully, information obtained from finding aids will minimize the amount of time researchers spend examining collections or parts of collections that are irrelevant to their work.

I sometimes think of a finding aid as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Each section of the document reveals additional details about the collection, and after reading each section the researcher asks him/herself: given what I now know about this collection, do the materials it contains still seem relevant to my project? If the answer is yes, the researcher will either continue reading the finding aid or decide to begin examining the materials in the collection. If the answer is no, the researcher can abandon the finding aid and begin the process again with a new one.


Click image to enlarge.

Look, for example, at the Collection Summary section of the example finding aid above (for Spencer’s collection of Pillsbury Family papers). It provides information to answer these important questions: How much time do I need to allot to go through this collection – is there one box or one hundred? Are the materials in the collection written in a language I can read? Are these the types of materials I need – or, for example, does this collection contain only photographs when I need correspondence? Are the people who created these documents the people I’m researching, or are they related or an entirely different group? Do the materials in the collection fall within the date range I’m studying?


Click image to enlarge.

Subsequent sections of the finding aid more thoroughly answer these questions or address new ones. Perhaps most significant is the Collection Description. This section identifies the contents of specific boxes and/or folders and also indicates how materials are arranged (e.g. by format, date, author or recipient name). Having determined that the collection may be relevant to his/her project, the researcher can use the information in this section to ascertain how much of the collection s/he will need to go through and where specific documents (or groups of documents) are located.

What are the limitations of finding aids?

Depending on factors like the size of a collection, the type of materials it contains, and when it was processed, finding aids generally provide some information about significant people, places, events, and topics represented in the collection. However, without unlimited time to process, staff members are unable to create completely comprehensive finding aids that list all names and topics that occur within all documents in a collection. Most, in fact, are not included.


Think of how many letters about Christmas (and other topics) might be “hidden” in these boxes!
Click image to enlarge.

The result is that a finding aid search may turn up few or no results, not because a repository doesn’t have archival materials on that topic, but because that topic wasn’t specifically named in a finding aid. When this happens, try different search terms or approach your topic from another angle. For example, if you’re looking for information about how Christmas was celebrated in nineteenth-century America, and a search for “Christmas” turns up limited or unhelpful results, you might instead search for collections containing family correspondence from that time period. The larger task would then be to read letters sent and received in December and January of various years.

Finding aids are exceptionally useful, but they can also be tricky documents to navigate, even for experienced researchers. If you encounter any difficulties using Spencer’s finding aids, don’t hesitate to contact me ( or another staff member for assistance.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Folded and Sewn: A bookbinding workshop

June 12th, 2014

Staff and students from Conservation Services recently led a workshop for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Mini College program, in which individuals attend a week of lectures, classes, and events on the KU campus. This year we led a group of 21 eager students in our workshop, “Folded and Sewn.”

Four structures featured in bookbinding workshop

Clockwise from upper left: sewn pamphlet, stapled pamphlet, accordion book,
Venetian blind book. Click images to enlarge.

The students in this workshop made four simple structures that were created with folding and sewing–no adhesives required. We started with an accordion book, then made a Venetian blind structure that featured a picture of James Naismith on one side and the windows of Watson Library on the other. Next we moved to folded pamphlets: first a stapled one with text about caring for books, and finished with a sewn version featuring images of historic Jayhawks (courtesy of the University Archives).

Kyle Sederstom, Roberta Woodrick, and Whitney Baker, staff of Conservation Services, took turns leading the class. Step-by-step images were also projected on an overhead screen. In addition, we enlisted three conservation student assistants and our summer conservation intern to roam the room and help participants as needed.

Conservation Services staff and students at bookbinding workshop

Conservation Services staff and students who led the Mini College workshop.

The Mini College participants finished the structures in record time! We had provided two copies of each structure, so there was time for students to review and make a second book. Other students perused examples of pamphlets and accordion structures provided on a front table.

Bookbinding workshop

The workshop featured a leader for each bookbinding structure, as well as projected images of each step.

We had a wonderful time hosting this workshop and hope to offer it again in the future.


Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Researchers Wanted!

June 6th, 2014

Ask any special collections librarian or archivist about her favorite collection item, and she may hem and haw (how can you pick just one favorite?!?). However, ask that same librarian about interesting items or collections that she wishes more researchers would use, and invariably she will rattle off a frighteningly long list.

This week, in the spirit of summer discovery, we present two intriguing selections that scream “researchers wanted!”

1.  Papers of William Poel, ca. 1895-1934 (

As admirers of William Shakespeare know, this April marked the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth.  And while Spencer doesn’t have a manuscript by the Bard’s gathering dust on a shelf (no manuscripts in his hand are known to survive), the library does hold papers for William Poel (1852-1934), an actor, writer, and theater director known for his attempts to revive the conventions of the Elizabethan stage at the dawn of the twentieth century. The collection includes correspondence with figures from the theater world (actors, writers, critics, and others), a small number of scripts, prompt books, and journals, and ephemera such as playbills and review clippings.  Pictured below is Poel’s heavily annotated prompt copy for Fratricide Punished, a German version of Hamlet of ambiguous relation to Shakespeare’s play.  Also pictured are a theater program and a lecture announcement, examples of Poel ephemera.

Picture of Poel's Fratricide Punished Prompt book, open to the list of characters and a pasted in print announcement. Plan of playscene in Poel's Fratricide Punished prompt book.
Lecture announcement for a lecture series on Shakespeare. Image of exterior of program for Poel's production of Marlowe's Faustus
Top: Poel’s prompt book for Fratricide Punished , ca. 1924. MS 31:D4; Bottom: an announcement for a series of lectures by Poel on Shakespeare, 1900, and the program for a production of Marlowe’s Faustus directed by Poel, 1904. MS 31, F6.  Click images to enlarge.

2. Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo, undated (before 1860).

This mysterious bound manuscript came to Spencer from the library of the well-known nineteenth-century art historian, bibliophile, and Hispanist, Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-1878).   A portion of Stirling Maxwell’s vast library was sold at auction and 1958, enabling KU to acquire a significant number of early printed Spanish volumes,  including important editions that now form the basis of Spencer’s Cervantes Collection, and this manuscript.  As far as we know, the author of this manuscript has not been identified, though the text concerns Cervantes’ famed character Don Quixote.   A note pasted toward the front gives further provenance, describing it as a “curious manuscript” sold as part of the auction of the library of “the late Don Justo de Sancha” by Sotheby’s in December of 1860.  Though the hand is later than Cervantes’ time, scholars of Spanish literature might find much to pique their interest in this 205-page manuscript.  The pictures below include the table of contents, which offers readers an idea of the matter covered.

Image of the title page (in a different hand?) giving the title, Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo Image of prologue with pasted in provenance note for Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo. Image of the first page of the table of contents of Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo Image of the final page of Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo.

Bookplate of William Stirling-Maxwell Image of the beginning of Chapter 2 in Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo.

Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo, undated (before 1860). MS C73. Click images to enlarge.

For more information on these and any of our other manuscript holdings, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  After all, the summer is an ideal time to start a new research project.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian


May 23rd, 2014

Aesop’s fables are directly descended from the 11th century Physiologus of Theobaldus and other medieval bestiaries, or treatises on birds and beasts who were blessed with certain moral, physical, and mental attributes.They were largely the creations of early Christian teachers and were a mix of natural history and Gospel Truth with snippets of folk-lore, travellers’ tales, and dimly understood scientific ideas thrown in, served up with all the authority of the Church behind them. They have continued to be popular long after they ceased to be used for religious instruction, and as has oft been pointed out, there’s a lot of “zoology” in them, and thus, they do deserve a niche in the history of science.

 Howitt, Samuel. A New Work of Animals, 1818. Call number Ellis Aves E102. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

 Howitt, Samuel. A New Work of Animals, 1818. Call number Ellis Aves E102. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Text excerpt (top) and accompanying plate (bottom) from Howitt, Samuel. A New Work of Animals, 1818.
Call number Ellis Aves E102.  Click images to enlarge.

Among the chief emblems of the original Physiologus were numerous herps including the sun lizard, viper, serpent, sea-tortoise, crocodile, frog, and salamander. In this fable about porcupine and snakes, there’s no bias against snakes; both herp and mammal behave badly.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conversations