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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Going Cross-Eyed: We Dare You to Read This!

September 28th, 2012

[…] I really must, in justice to Jane, apologise for her writing so short a letter—only two pages you see—hardly two—and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well. She often says, when the letter is first opened, ‘Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that chequer-work’ […]

-Miss Bates to Emma in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815)

In an earlier post about the visit of the NEH Seminar “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries” to the Spencer Research Library, I mentioned a manuscript format that would have been familiar to early 19th-century eyes, but which is likely quite alien to modern readers:  the crossed letter.  It is this type of letter that Jane Austen is alluding to in the above passage from Emma (1815).  A crossed letter is a letter in which the correspondent saved both stationary and postage by writing not only in one direction, but by turning the letter 90 degrees and then writing across the page perpendicularly.  The result is a letter that can be quite a challenge to read.  Just take a look at the letter below from Robert Ker Porter, a painter and diplomat, to his sister, the novelist Anna Maria Porter (click images to enlarge):

Image of the first page of a crossed letter (from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter)  Image of a Crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter, p. 2

The uncrossed portion of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter
Read if you dare:  A crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter.
4 April 1806. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 1, Folder 27.  Click images to enlarge.

Crossed letters began to decline in use after 1840 when the “Uniform Penny Post” was established in England, allowing letter-writers to send domestic mail at a rate of a penny per 1/2 once (thus the name “penny post”), regardless of distance, payable in advance by the sender.

An English etiquette book from 1901 warned sternly against the habit of crossing one’s letters, but recognized that in the past (as in the example from Jane Austen above), a crossed letter could be a sign of friendship and intimacy:

Crossing a letter is quite unpardonable. Stationery is cheap, postage is cheap; there is no reason for crossing lines.  There was a time when both postage and stationery were very expensive, and in those old days a crossed letter was actually regarded as a mark of friendship.

Some of them were crossed and recrossed! Dear friends filled every corner of the paper, and resented it if the replies were not equally indicative of regard.  But nowadays a crossed letter is by no means a mark of friendship. Very much the reverse!

-from Manners for Girls by Mrs. Humphry. London: T.F. Unwin, 1901, p. 61.

The anonymous author of Hints on Letter-Writing (1841), which came out roughly a year after the launch of the Uniform Penny Post,  advises readers,  “Should you ever be compelled thus to disfigure a letter [by crossing it], in mercy to your correspondent vary the colour of the ink.”

Below is the first page of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister and mother. It is interesting to see that, in this case, he uses the black ink to write to his sister, the novelist Jane Porter, and red ink to write (on the same sheet) to his mother.

Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 1821  Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 14, 15, 26, 1821. Rotated 90 degrees to facilitate reading the portion of the letter in red ink.

First page of a crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane Porter (in black) and his mother, Jane Blenkinsop Porter, (in red).  June 14, 15, 26th, 1821. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 2, Folder 2.  The second image is rotated 90 degrees to enable reading the portion of the letter written in red ink. Click images to enlarge.

Click on the images above to enlarge them and see whether you think the contrast in the color of the inks makes the letter easier to read.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Portal to the Past: KU’s Yearbook

September 20th, 2012

I find the KU yearbooks to be one of the most informative and entertaining resources in the University Archives. When you open the covers you are transported back to the 1930s, 1960s, or even the 1900s. The yearbooks span from 1873 to the present and depict student life, campus growth, and university history as it was happening.  By 1901 the University’s yearbook was given the name “The Jayhawker.”  The name was chosen by a committee of student representatives from each class with the hope that “The Jayhawker” would become the permanent name of the Annuals of Kansas University.  Their wish came true and the yearbook retains that title today.

The covers on display below have been chosen because they are indicative of the years they represent and are just plain fun – Enjoy!

Becky Schulte
University Archivist

Jayhawker: A Record of Events of the University of Kansas for the Year…
Spencer Library Call Numbers: LD2697 .J3 (Reading Room Reference Collection copy);
UA Ser 69/1 (University Archives copy). Click images to enlarge.

Image of 1902 Jayhawker  Image of 1926-27Jayhawker Yearbook

Above: 1902                                                         Above: 1926-1927
Below: 1927-28                                                       Below: 1930-31

Image of cover of 1927-28 Jayhawker Yearbook      Image of cover of 1930-31Jayhawker Yearbook

Image of cover of 1933-34 Jayhawker Yearbook      Image of Cover of 1934-35 Jayhawker Yearbook

Above: 1933-34                                                Above: 1934-35
Below: 1935-36                                                     Below: 1949

Image of Cover of 1935-36 Jayhawker Yearbook      Image of cover of 1949 Jayhawker Yearbook

   Image of Cover of 1958 Jayhawker Yearbook     Image of cover of 1959 Jayhawker Yearbook

Above: 1958                                                Above: 1959
Below: 1969                                                    Below: 1985

Image of cover of 1969 Jayhawker Yearbook     Image of cover of 1985 Jayhawker Yearbook

Want to browse more yearbooks in person?  Copies of  all of KU’s yearbooks are housed with the reference collection in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library Reading Room (you don’t even have to fill out a paging request). Come in and travel back in time with a KU yearbook!

A Kansas Soldier Abroad: 105 Years Ago Today

September 14th, 2012

Wint Smith Diary--September 13-14, 1917

Wint Smith Diary--September 14-15, 1917

Diary of Lieutenant Wint Smith, September 12, 1917 – May 10, 1918, open to the entries for September 13-15, 1917.
Wint Smith Papers, Call Number: RH MS C55. Click images to enlarge to a readable size.

Lt. Smith, from Mankato, Kansas, kept this diary while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in England and France during World War I. The diary, which begins with Smith’s departure from New York City aboard a troop ship, the “Mongolia,” is quite detailed and anecdotal. The diary ends with an entry for May 10, 1918, while Smith is convalescing from a knee operation.

Snapshot of Lt. Wint Smith, 1917   Image of cover of Wint Smith's Diary for 1917-1918

Left: Snapshot of Lt. Smith on ship crossing the Atlantic, 1917. Wint Smith Papers–Photographs,
RH MS-P 201: Box 2, Folder 7; Right: the cover of his Diary from September 12, 1917 – May 10, 1918,
Wint Smith Papers, Call Number: RH MS C55.

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections / Kansas Collection Curator

What Have You Got on Your Plate for Today?

September 7th, 2012

The bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, is the largest frog in North America. However, even as flat as he looks on this plate, he’s an unlikely candidate for road pizza on your plate, because although he’s an amphibian, the adult bullfrog tends to stay in his moist habitat and not to venture out onto dry land. Unfortunately for him, in this country, he’s one of the few species large enough to provide a satisfactory meal of frog legs for Homo sapiens.

Plate from James Petiver's Gazophylacii Naturae & Artis in qua animalia [...]

James Petiver (1663 [or 4]-1718).  Gazophylacii naturæ & artis,: decas prima-[decima]. In quâ animalia,
quadrupeda, aves, pisces, reptilia, […] descriptionibus breviubs & iconibus illustrantur
. Londonii: Ex Officinâ
Christ. Bateman ad insignia Bibliæ & Coronæ, vico vulgo dict. Pater-Noster-Row., MDCCII. [1702-1706?]
Call Number: Ellis Aves E116 item 2. Click image to enlarge.

James Petiver, known primarily as a botanist and as one of the founders of British entomology, went to considerable expense to have ships’ captains and surgeons supply him with specimens of natural history from around the world for his museum. In the Gazophylacium, one of Petiver’s rarest and most interesting productions, the figures of reptiles and amphibians, plants, shells, insects, birds, and other animals are displayed together on the same plate. It was the intention of both author and publisher that the text be pasted down on the versos of the plates facing the appropriate plate, with dedication mounted at the foot of each, as in the Spencer Library’s copy; however, in most states of the work, text is simply printed on the back of each plate.

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 Conservations