Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Love in the Time of Corona: How to Write Love Letters

April 16th, 2020

Picture it: You’ve met someone interesting, funny, exciting, attractive – someone who could be something really special. Then, POOF! Social distancing happens and you have no option for in-person contact with your romantic prospect for who knows how long.

How do you continue getting to know each other and keep that initial connection flourishing? Texting? Emails? Video calls? While all are great options, why not take this opportunity to try another choice? Everyone, it is time to break out those pens and paper and start writing love letters again!

Photograph of a soldier writing a letter in a barracks room at Fort Riley, 1908
A soldier writing a letter in a barracks room at Fort Riley, Kansas, 1908. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Now you may ask, “Why write letters when we have phones and computers at our disposal?” The logic is three-fold:

1) Tangibility: Since you can’t embrace the one you fancy, why not create something physical for one another to have and hold during this time of distance?

2) Permanence: Typically, text messages are deleted automatically after a certain period of time. Phone calls and video chats exist only at the time they are happening (unless you record them). Letters, on the other hand, will last – as long as they are cared for properly.

3) Hobby option: Social distancing has prompted many people to explore new hobbies – particularly creative ones. While people learn to bake from scratch, sew masks, and try their hands at knitting, writing letters or keeping a journal is another creative outlet to explore!

Personally, I do not do much letter writing (let alone ones of an amorous nature) and I know that most of my friends, family, and colleagues do not either. Thankfully, I found a great source of advice: How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun (1927), one of the Little Blue Books in Spencer’s Kansas Collection.

Cover of How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
The cover of How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click image to enlarge.

Using the long-distance love story of Clementine and Thomas (a traveling salesman), this quaint publication gives examples of love letters appropriate to various levels of relationships – Better Acquaintance, Avowed Tenderness, Betrothed, and Married – and for a variety of situations within those relationships. In the midst of the letters, Markun also provides advice so that the reader may maintain the appropriate level of formality with regard to language, expectations, and even writing materials to use. For example, Markun writes that “amorous correspondence should be written in black or blue-black ink, and gentlemen usually write on white paper, although various light tints are occasionally in fashion” (10-11).

Part of the Introductory Note in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
Part of the Introductory Note in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click image to enlarge.
Selected pages in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
Selected pages in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
The first four pages in the first chapter (“Better Acquaintance”) in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click images to enlarge.

I decided to focus my attention on the advice and examples for the first two levels of relationships: Better Acquaintances and Avowed Tenderness. After reading through the highly entertaining letters and advice featured, here are the five tidbits that I think will be most useful for those attempting to write a love letter in the 21st-century:

1) Respect the other’s wishes. Before courtship by mail can even begin, make sure that both of you are on the same page regarding your interest in each other. If one party isn’t interested in corresponding and has communicated their wishes, the other should not be angry when further letters are left unanswered.

2) Dates, dates, dates. Always include the full date on every letter. This will help avoid confusion and potential misunderstandings because it helps the recipient keep track of when the letter was written.

3) Think before you ink. You want to be clear about your intentions and not say things you do not mean. As Leo Markun wrote in the Introductory Note of How to Write Love Letters, “it is very unsafe to put into a love letter any matter which may not be proclaimed to the whole universe” (6). Saying “I love you” in person is fleeting; saying “I love you” in ink is forever. In addition to considering the permanence of what you write, know that it is possible that your letter may be read by someone other than the intended recipient. As Markun advises, “before sending off a letter, then, it is well to consider if it is one that may safely be read in a court room” (7).

4) Be yourself. Your letter should have personality! Show off your humor, share your thoughts, give your writing your style and voice. Because this is so vital, remember that merely copying a letter and changing the names is not going to give you the desired results.

5) Grammar is sexy. Personality does not come at the expense of proper grammar. Per Markun, “there is less excuse for slipshod grammar in a letter than there is in talking… If necessary it may be rewritten” (14).

And with this advice in hand, it’s time to start writing! So let’s break out the stationary, spread the love (without spreading the germs), and help keep the postal service afloat.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Color Our Collections – Round 3!

February 4th, 2020
Color Our Collections logo, 2020

It’s the fourth-annual Color Our Collections week! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring fun where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share coloring pages that feature their collection materials.

KU Libraries is pleased to share this year’s submission for the annual week of coloring craziness. Featuring the collections at Spencer Research Library, this year’s coloring book celebrates nature, history, and even mythical creatures! You can download and print the book via the Color Our collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our colleagues at other institutions!

As a preview, here are three pages from the book. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2020
Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2020
Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2020

Are you a fan of the collections at Spencer? Have you ever come across an image in our materials that would make a great coloring page? Tell us about it in the comments or email us at ksrlref@ku.edu!  

Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Color Our Collections – Round 2!

February 6th, 2019

Color Our Collections logo, 2019

Color Our Collections is back! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring craziness where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring pages featuring their collection materials.

KU Libraries participated for the first time last year, and this year we have another coloring book to share! Featuring materials at the Spencer Research Library, this year’s book even includes two pages celebrating the Spencer’s 50th anniversary. You can download and print the book via the Color Our collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our colleagues at other institutions!

As a preview, here are three pages from the book.

Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Spencer Chemical and P&M advertisement in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Kelmscott Chaucer image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Holiday Hosting with “The ‘Home Queen’ Cook Book”

December 7th, 2018

December has arrived and with it the winter holiday season! Since the holiday season means holiday parties, I wanted to look into hosting an oft forgotten type of affair – a lovely, elegant dinner party!

Personally, I do not have much experience with dinner parties so I decided to go to the best source I could find: The “Home Queen” Cook Book. Compiled during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, The “Home Queen” Cook Book features recipes, etiquette, and entertaining suggestions from “over two hundred World’s Fair lady managers, wives of governors, and other ladies of position and influence.” Armed with the advice of these many esteemed ladies, I set out to see if I could recreate an elegant dinner party from generations past. What follows is a story of research, abandoned dreams, and a final feeble attempt to do anything I had originally hoped to accomplish.

Image of the cover of "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The cover of The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I do not know what everyone else pictures when they think of a dinner party, but I was envisioning an elegantly set table with beautiful linens and fine china to hold a magnificent multi-course meal. With that image in mind, I immediately began examining the section on “Party Suppers” in The “Home Queen” Cook Book. That sounds like the place to start, right? And what did I learn? First, a “party supper” and a dinner party are not synonymous. A party supper is much less formal than what I was expecting when I read the heading:

An evening party… would assemble quite early in the evening. This would give plenty of time for social intercourse, music and innocent amusements. Refreshments might be carried around on trays, and the guests served with cake, coffee or lemonade. Fine large napkins should first be handed around. These should be spread on the knees to receive the plates afterward furnished. Delicate sandwiches of chopped tongue, spread thinly on sandwich biscuits, or the white meat of turkey or check are very nice for such entertainments. Ice cream, confectionery, and ripe fruit of any kind may be served.

I liked the idea of this informal gathering, which was meant to “facilitate conversation, ease, and the choosing of congenial companions out of mixed gatherings at large parties.” What more could you want from a festive holiday party? However, I still had the aforementioned picture of a dinner party in my mind. This prompted me to look to the sections on “The Mid-Day Meal” and “The Evening Meal” in the book, hoping to find any information that might be of use. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was picturing in “The Mid-Day Meal” section! In it was everything I could ever want to know about table settings, the most appropriate food choices, even how to properly invite your guests to the affair. Before spending a great deal of time on the overwhelming amount of food described, I decided to focus first on the most basic aspect of the evening: a proper table setting.

After reading the descriptions of the proper linens, plates, crystal, and silver, I realized that just setting the table would cost a small fortune. The proper “snow white” table linen made of the suggested “handsome Irish damask” would easily cost over $100 for a small tablecloth. Any attempt at recreating the quality of a proper dinner table setting was clearly out of reach.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “If the expected quality is unmanageable, what can I do that would dress up a somewhat subpar table setting so that it at least looks elegant?” Returning to the book, I found the perfect remedy: an artfully folded napkin. Aided by the “Folding Table Napkins” section, I began my attempt to create anything that might give me the air of sophistication I had hoped to achieve when I originally formed this brilliant plan of mine.

Image of the instructions for the Escutcheon napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

Escutcheon napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The “Home Queen” Cook Book features no less than twenty-one different napkin-folding techniques to help ensure that “the dining room, the table and all that is placed upon it shall be made as attractive as possible.” With such a plethora of options – all with detailed instructions and pictures to guide me – I thought I had finally found the perfect starting point on my way to my dream dinner party. Unfortunately, my optimism and confidence were quickly destroyed after attempting only two of the possible folds: the Escutcheon (picture above) and the Chestnut Pocket (pictured below).

Image of the instructions for the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The Chestnut Pocket napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The Escutcheon: Described as “the easiest of all the ornamental foldings,” the Escutcheon was the beginning of the end for me. It was here I learned that the instructions to starch and iron the napkins immediately before folding was not a suggestion but truly an absolute requirement. After close to a half an hour of intense labor and a great deal of swearing, I finally managed to produce… something.

Photograph of an Escutcheon napkin fold attempt

My attempt at the Escutcheon napkin fold. Click image to enlarge.

The Chestnut Pocket: My attempt to regaining any semblance of dignity after being so embarrassingly defeated by the Escutcheon finally yielded a positive result for me! I even took it a step beyond the Chestnut Pocket and created the Pocket Napkin. I found that the secret to success lay in finding a napkin-folding technique that did not need to stand up. With this revelation, I managed to produce the following creation:

Photograph of a Pocket napkin fold attempt

My successful attempt at the Pocket napkin fold
(a variation on the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold).
Click image to enlarge.

So after all of this – the research, the numerous disappointments, the defeat, and eventual triumph – I am sure you must be wondering: will I be hosting my envisioned elegant dinner party this holiday season? To put it succinctly, absolutely not. There is only so much embarrassment by fabric I am willing to put myself through in the name of holiday entertaining.

Emily Beran
Public Services

‘Palm’ Reading with MS Q57

October 9th, 2018

Throughout history, people have found innovative ways to record the written word. Civilizations have used clay, stone, papyrus, animal skin – almost anything they could think of to produce records and share their stories. Recently, I was introduced to another innovative writing surface: palm leaves!

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Spencer’s Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript inside its acid-free storage box.
Call Number: MS Q57. Click image to enlarge.

Created in the 17th century, this palm-leaf manuscript (also referred to as a Pothi) contains the first five books of the Rāmāyaņa, an ancient Sanskrit epic about Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife, Sita, from Ravana, the 10-headed Rakshasa king of Lanka. While the epic itself dates back to over two millennia ago, the text in Spencer Research Library’s manuscript is a Telugu translation from the 13th century.

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Close-up views of Spencer’s Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript.
Call Number: MS Q57. Click image to enlarge.

Palm-leaf manuscripts were created by drying and curing palm leaves. Holes were then added to the leaves so that a string could pass through, securing the leaves into a book. To create the text, scribes used a stylus to etch the characters before adding a layer of black soot or turmeric to improve the text’s readability. While the use of palm leaves for writing declined in South India as the printing press became more widely used in the 19th century, thousands of palm-leaf manuscripts containing the history, traditions, and knowledge of the region still exist today.

Emily Beran
Public Services