Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

From the Stacks: Sword and Blossom Poems

October 27th, 2012

Public Services Student Assistant Eleni Roussopoulos writes of a favorite discovery from the stacks.

One day while re-shelving books in Spencer’s Special Collections book stacks my attention was caught by a navy-blue box on a lower shelf. Unable to walk away without knowing the contents of the box, I carefully opened it. Inside this box lives a three-volume set of hand-made books titled Sword and Blossom Poems from the Japanese Done into English Verse by Shotaro Kimura and Charlotte M.A. Peake,  [1908 – 1910].

Image of the three volumes of Sword and Blossom Poems

The three volumes of Sword and Blossom Poems from the Japanese / done into English verse by Shotaro
Kimura & Charlotte M.A. Peake ; illustrated by Japanese artists
. Tokyo: T. Hasegawa, Meiji 41 [1908-1910].
Call Number B3136.  Click image to enlarge.

Each volume features both “Sword” and “Blossom” poems, where the text is accompanied by woodcuts from various Japanese artists and is printed by woodblock (rather than by moveable type). The “Blossom Songs” are tanka (short unrhymed poems) translated from the Kokinshū anthology of Japanese poems compiled circa 905 C.E.

Picture of Blossom Songs half title with list of illustrations from volume 2

Image of poem "Snow" from "Sword and Blossom POems"

Image of opening for the poems "misere" and "Maple Leaves" from volume 1 of Sword and Blossom Poems

 “Blossom Songs” half title, with list of illustrations for the second volume;
“Snow,” with a reproduction of a Hiroshige snow scene, and “Misere” and “Maple Leaves,”
with illustration by Kohō, from the “Blossom Songs” section of the first volume of Sword and
Blossom Poems from the Japanese
. Call Number B3136. Click images to enlarge.

The “Sword Songs” were composed in the Chinese style by various Japanese authors. In the introduction, the editor informs the reader that the “the spirit that breathes through [the sword songs] is the spirit that has animated the warriors of Japan from the earliest days.”

Image of Sword Songs section title page from vol. 2

Image of "A Sword Dance of the Satsuma Clan"

The “Sword Songs” section title page and “A Sword Dance of the Satsuma Clan, ” both with illustrations by Gesso, from
volume two of Sword and Blossom Poems from the Japanese.  Call Number B3136. Click images to enlarge.

These surprisingly sturdy hand-made books, with crepe-paper covered boards, were published in Tokyo by T. Hasegawa at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Gorgeous and fascinating to look at, these short books offer an excellent example of the now-vanishing art of Japanese wood-block printing.

Eleni Roussopolous
Public Services Student Assistant

Tips and Tricks: A New Way to Browse and Search

October 19th, 2012

One challenging thing about conducting research in a special collections library and archives is that you can’t “browse” the stacks as you might in a circulating collection.  There are plenty of fortuitous discoveries to be made at Spencer, but they don’t come from your eye alighting on the volume two books down from the one that you went to the shelf to retrieve.

However, thanks to a new functionality in the KU Libraries online catalog, there is now a way to “browse” some of the Spencer Library’s collections.  This exciting new functionality bears a descriptive–if technical-sounding–name:  the “left-anchored call number” search (see below for a screenshot).


screenshot of Left-anchored call number search


The term “left-anchored” refers to the fact that the catalog will retrieve any items whose call numbers begin with the word or series of letters that you enter into the search box.  This is useful because many of the Spencer Library’s discrete collections (such as the William Butler Yeats Collection or the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements) have distinctive call numbers that begin with a common word or series of letters.  For example, all items in the named Yeats collection have call numbers that begin with “Yeats,” and all items in the Wilcox Collection have call numbers that begin with “RH WL” (or, even more specifically, the manuscripts that are in the Wilcox collection begin with the call number “RH WL MS” ).  Thus, if you enter those words or series of letters and select “Left-anchored call number”  from the search options, you will be able to “browse” the catalog records for the items in the collection.

You can then use the “sort results by” function (which is found at the top left of the results page) to sort the results by date (either earliest or most recent first), author, or titleRead the rest of this entry »

A Nest for Metal Jayhawks

October 10th, 2012

Former conservation student assistant Haley Trezise reports on how she met the challenge of safely housing a group of metal Jayhawks.

I could hear the individual metal pieces sliding around inside before I even opened the box containing the metal Jayhawk paraphernalia.  There was a small metal pendant set aside in an envelope; however, the rest of the items in the collection were awkwardly arranged at the bottom of a tall, slender box.  Projects like this challenged me to find or make appropriate housing for Spencer items.

Photo of note and envelope accompanying the metal Jayhawk paraphernalia

Image of Metal Jayhawk #1     Image of Metal Jayhawk #2

The challenge: A note to the archivist and two of several metal Jayhawk items all to be housed together.
Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25

I worked as a conservation student employee and Museum Studies intern during my last two semesters at KU.  For one of my projects as an intern, I was asked to upgrade the housing for some metal Jayhawk paraphernalia.  The parameters: all material should stay together in one box, including the accompanying written documents.  I was provided a rather small, off-the-shelf box and told that all items should fit within that enclosure.

Image of a new housing for Jayhawks
A new nest for metal Jayhawks.  Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25

After considering various arrangements for best placement, I used  plastazote foam, an inert (non-damaging) material that is easily shaped, to cut indentions for each object. I took a picture of the  proper place for each item and placed it, along with the written information, in a sleeve inside the lid of the box.  The image of what is stored in the box was also attached to the outside of the box so that the archivists can see what is inside without opening the lid.

Photograph of exterior of box of the new Jayhawk Paraphernalia housing

Photos affixed to the exterior of the housing reveal at a glance the Jayhawk paraphernalia contained inside.
Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25. Click image to enlarge.

Haley Trezise
Former Conservation Student Assistant

Viper Militia

October 5th, 2012

In his book on the viper, Nouvelles experiences sur la vipere, Parisian apothecary Moyse (or Moïse) Charas takes to task Italian physician, naturalist, and poet Francesco Redi (1626-1697), for his scientific study of viper bites, the first such research ever. Charas was of the opinion (and not alone in it) that venom per se was harmless and that death was caused by poisonous spirits injected into the victim by the mind of an infuriated viper. Charas’s title-page shows two vipers entwined as in the caduceus, or staff of Mercury, one of the symbols of the medical profession. The Aesculapian staff, after the Greco-Roman God of medicine and healing, Aesculapius, is branched at the top with a single snake twined around it; it is the official insignia of the American Medical Association.

Image of Engraved title page from Moyse Charas' Nouvelles experiences sur la viperre (1669)

Charas, Moyse (1618-1698). Nouvelles experiences sur la vipere.
A Paris: chez l’auteur et Olivier de Varennes, 1669. Ellis Omnia B30.
Click image to enlarge.

Charas recommended viper as a staple of the diet and as a preventive and cure for a good many diseases. His 17th century compatriot and contemporary Pierre Pomet (1658-1699) recommended distilled salts of viper to prevent measles, smallpox, plague, and scurvy, and to cure gout, rheumatisum, and venereal disease. Viper heart was prescribed for mealcholia. In another book, Trakat über den Theriak, Charas extols theriac, an anti-leprosy medicine made from powdered snake and used since antiquity; in medieval Europe the powder was formed into tablets, stamped with a snake image, and used against the bubonic plague. But that ain’t nothin’; our American frontiersmen gladly bought greasy-kid-stuff from snake-oil salesmen who took their money and swore the oil would grow hair back on their heads and cure the goiter to boot.

On the added engraved title-page of the Spencer Library’s copy (pictured above) is the inscription of the book’s former owner, French pharmacist and botanist Jean Leon Soubeiran (1827-1892). Soubeiran was the author of books on materia medica from all the kingdoms of nature–plant, animal, and mineral–including one on the venom of poisonous snakes.

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.