The University of Kansas

Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

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.

Spencer’s November-December Exhibit: “Creating Over a Century of Symphonies: The Reuter Organ Company”

November 14th, 2023

While each year we at Spencer process many new collections, we are also adding to preexisting collections through the continued generosity of our donors. From Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to LGBTQIA2S+ activists, an individual’s history doesn’t end when their collection comes through our doors. Individual and organizational histories continue to evolve past the snapshots their historical records provide, and we at Spencer aim to provide as complete a picture as we can! One collection we’d like to draw particular attention to is an addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection (Call Number: RH PH 68). Through this collection, patrons can follow the construction of uniquely hand-crafted pipe organs before they were built into their new homes in institutions all over the world. And now, with a 2023 addition, patrons can see even more of the grandeur of these massive instruments as well as the incredible skill and historical craftsmanship of this Lawrence-based company!

Black-and-white overhead photograph of a large pipe organ.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2179 at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1995. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

The history of the Reuter Organ Company starts in 1917 when Adolph Reuter established the Reuter-Schwarz Organ Company with his business partner Earl Schwarz. After a disastrous tornado blew through the company factory, the company relocated to the Wilder Brothers Shirt Factory on New Hampshire Street in Lawrence, Kansas, after fulfilling a commission for the city’s Masonic Temple in 1919. Schwarz departed from the company shortly afterwards, and the company was renamed the Reuter Organ Company. In less than ten years, the company grew from a six-employee operation to over 50 full-time employees with over 50 commissions a year. However, after lean years during the Great Depression, the Reuter Organ Company faced a manufacturing ban on musical instruments during World War II and stayed afloat by producing government-sanctioned boxes for munitions materials with a skeletal crew. After the war, the company began to flourish again, and Reuter began hiring skilled staff with formal music education and expertise in organ construction. Through the knowledge base of its staff, the company began to experiment and further develop traditional construction techniques with new pipe organ technology to develop a signature “Reuter sound.”

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in the corner of a balcony in an auditorium.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 1741 at the Shryock Auditorium at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, 1970. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

After Adolph Reuter’s retirement in 1961, the company continued to evolve under the direction of longtime employee Franklin Mitchell. Mitchell, with then newly appointed production manager Albert Neutel, purchased the company in the early 1980s. Together, the two continued to refine the Reuter technical craft, particularly with the mechanical aspects of organ construction and the tonal sound of the company’s organs. After Mitchell’s retirement in 1997, Albert Neutel was joined in management by his son, Albert “J.R.” Neutel, a former longtime employee of the company. Under the Neutel family’s direction, the Reuter Organ Company moved operations from New Hampshire Street to a newly constructed and specially designed factory and administrative facility in northwest Lawrence in 2001. Sixteen years later, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary by holding a public open house in their newer facility and inviting old and new customers alike. By this time, the company had constructed over 2,200 pipe organs for public and private institutions around the world. The company had also built a respected name in organ rehabilitation within the pipe organ community. In 2022, amid the retirement of several longtime key staff members, J.R. Neutel, the company’s current president, decided to sell Reuter’s factory and administrative facility. A major selling point of the Reuter Organ Company is the institutional and craft knowledge of its staff. There is a strong tradition of old staff mentoring new staff and passing down historic pipe organ construction techniques. Operating at the same scale without that same level of institutional knowledge was deemed impossible. And in the beginning of 2023, the Reuter Organ Company further scaled back operations to only fulfilling the customary 11-year warranties offered to their past clients with special consideration for smaller projects.

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in a balcony at the back of the church's sanctuary.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2044, 1982 in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Clearwater, Florida, 1982. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

To honor this historic company and to showcase a new addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection, we here at Spencer have created a temporary exhibit to display images of a few of the beautiful pipe organs Reuter’s has constructed over the years and to dip into some pipe organ terminology. Have you ever wondered were the phrase “pulling out all stops” comes from or just how big the biggest musical instrument in the world can get? Come on by to learn more about this incredible company and the incredible instruments it made! The exhibit opened free to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery on November 1st and will continue to be on display until early January 2024. We hope you “stop” by!

Charissa Pincock
Manuscripts Processor

Spencer’s Fang-tastic September-October Exhibit

October 11th, 2023

Stoker-ed about Halloween? Count get enough spooky stories? Excited to sink your teeth into this year’s Booktoberfest Community Read at Lawrence Public Library?

But of corpse!

Stop by and check out Spencer’s current short-term exhibit (ahem, exhi-bite) featuring a selection of materials by Bram Stoker, special editions of his novel Dracula, and copies of other early vampire stories. Highlights include:

  • the first installment of The Primrose Path, Stoker’s first novel that was initially published as a serial in 1875;
  • a handwritten draft of an unpublished article written and signed by Bram Stoker in 1887;
  • an early edition of the first fully realized vampire story in English; and
  • a copy of Dracula printed for servicemembers during World War II.
This image has text. Close-up view of items in an exhibit case.
An Armed Services Edition of Dracula, undated [circa 1945]. Call Number: AK178. Click image to enlarge.
Exhibit case with items and labels.
Bram Stoker materials on display. Click image to enlarge.

We hope to see you if you’re in our neck of the woods! The display is free and open to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery until October 31. Be sure to also download, print, and enjoy Spencer’s Halloween-inspired coloring pages and Frankenstein-themed MadLibs.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

Fall Exhibit 2023: To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio

September 28th, 2023

Spencer’s current exhibit is free and open to the public in the Exhibit Space through December 22nd. An online version of the exhibit is also available.

I’ve had the joy of working very closely with David Bergeron, Emeritus Professor of English, for several months as we prepare To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first exhibit piloting the David M. Bergeron and Geraldo Sousa Exhibit initiative.

Two people standing near the Shakespeare First Folio title graphic.
Beth M. Whittaker and David M. Bergeron. Click image to enlarge.

David and I had already been in conversation about exhibits as he and Geraldo developed their generous gift to support faculty research grounded in our collections. This project is very exciting to me, because I believe that exhibits are one of the best ways we can tell the stories of why libraries like this are important for a research university. We had bold ambitions to launch a call for proposals and a timeline, and then, as things happen, we encountered staff departures and a dean departure and all manner of other “reasons” progress was not made.

Luckily for all of us, David is a patient man. He approached me one morning and asked if the library had considered that this fall marked the 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare first folio. To be honest, I was unaware. We were still figuring out when we would have large scale exhibits, coming back from lockdown. The only fixed point on our exhibit schedule at that point was Fall of 2024, when we planned around the exciting centennial of the OTHER gorgeous library on campus, Watson. With David’s inspiration, we had the opportunity not only to work on an exhibit about this important milestone anniversary, but to test-drive collaborative exhibit processes prior to our launch of this program.

A book open to its title page; the facing page shows a black-and-white illustration of a bust framed by an elaborate border.
One of the items in the exhibit: Fifty Comedies and Tragedies by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, 1679. Click image to enlarge.

It has been a long time since I worked on a large-scale exhibit in Spencer’s exhibit space: 2018 to be exact, the magnificently fun 50 for 50. In the meantime, my colleagues have done a tremendous job of improving our exhibit processes. For those who don’t know, exhibit design is not as easy as picking which of our marvelous collections to put in a case. That’s the fun part. But it’s not all glamour, and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who wants to nerd out about digital file naming conventions and permissions to use images from other libraries and the perfect balance between font size for readability and size in the cases.

David and Geraldo’s gift is designed to encourage KU faculty to research in, and create exhibits from, the collections at Spencer Library. David isn’t the typical KU faculty member. For one thing, he’s a prolific author who uses our collections, and those of similar libraries, intensively in his research. For another, he’s continued this level of scholarly productivity into his retirement. So he has a lot of great ideas, and a lot of time on his hands, which is an exciting and terrifying combination. As I laid out the basic timeline of exhibit preparation from our end, he did not bat an eye.

Three exhibit cases interspersed with two cocktail tables, with the exhibit title graphic in the background.
A view of the exhibit To the Great Variety of Readers, with tables set up for the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.

We met roughly every other week to talk about the exhibit. He came up with a list of items very quickly, and not surprisingly, we couldn’t include it all. Spencer holds copies of thousands of significant literary works, but despite what you may hear from student guides on campus, KU Libraries does NOT hold a complete copy of the First Folio. While our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library were open to lending us one of their many copies, they are closed for renovation.

But David has been gracious about our limitations, and very patient with me as I encouraged him to keep a lay reader in mind. We believe Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone, and so should Spencer Library’s exhibits.

Three people looking down at items in an exhibit case.
Visitors exploring the exhibit during the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.
A man standing and speaking before a large seated audience.
David M. Bergeron providing remarks at the exhibit opening reception in Spencer’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

We also had fun planning an event, complete with the excuse I never knew I wanted to order cardboard Shakespeare standees. And finally, stay tuned as we develop more collaborative exhibits with KU faculty. The lessons we learned working with David on this project will make future exhibits easier for the recipients of David and Geraldo’s generosity.

Two men standing next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
David M. Bergeron (center) and Geraldo Sousa (right) with William Shakespeare (left). Click image to enlarge.
A woman tanding next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
Dean of KU Libraries Carol Smith with Shakespeare. Click image to enlarge.

Beth M. Whittaker
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

The Seven Year Itch; or, A Sabbatical in Search of a Bibliographer

August 2nd, 2023

A séance with L.E. James (Jim) Helyar, our late fellow librarian, and bibliographer of KU’s foundational Ralph N. Ellis collection of ornithology, is in order.

In our recent attempts to catalog mysterious heretofore unidentified bibliographical puzzlements in our Ellis collection backlog, we nailed the identity of a royal folio without a title page that had stymied Jim: he knew it was related to Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, but not how. Even though Jim was closer to solving this who-done-it than he knew, he wrote in notes left behind that “I don’t immediately see anything under Wilson or Bonaparte which corresponds.” “I suspect it’s something that ‘every [ornithological bibliographical] schoolboy knows’, but not me.”

Apparently, Jim was thrown off by the “Wilson/Bonaparte, American Ornithology” notes written at the bottom of the vulture plate shown below, so in fact who-done-it was not exactly who Jim thunk done-it. This messy (both physically and bibliographically) volume turned out to be an imperfect variant of one of our exceedingly rare ornithological tomes: the royal folio edition of Scottish naturalist Captain Thomas Brown’s Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, published in Edinburgh in 1835 (Call Number: Ellis Aves H76). This volume was created as an atlas to accompany a much earlier text, Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, first issued in Philadelphia between 1808 and 1814. In his notes Jim mentions Thomas Brown only as one of the artists credited for the “Wilson derived illustrations.”

Color illustration of a vulture standing on grass with mountains in the background.
A plate in Thomas Brown’s Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Musignano. With the addition of numerous recently discovered species, and representations of the whole sylva of North America superbly illustrated with 124 large copper plates engraved by Lizars, Scott, Mitchell and others all beautifully colored by hand. Edinburgh: Frazer & Co., 1835. Call Number: Ellis Aves H161. Click image to enlarge.
This image has handwritten text.
Close-up view of the handwritten note at the bottom of the vulture plate in Thomas Brown’s Illustrations. It reads “Wilson, A, & C. L. Bonaparte. American Ornithology. 4 vols. See VIII 90.” Call Number: Ellis Aves H161. Click image to enlarge.

I have created a small exhibition of the two copies, plus my start on what could be an arduous time-taking continent- and/or world-crossing project, to complete a census, not altogether do-able, ideally, entirely on-line or by phone. I was tempted at first to try the on-line and phone route, but same as with Jim perhaps … oh, the press of time …

The exhibit is free and open to the public in the North Gallery through September 16.

Sally Haines
Special Collections Cataloger

“How the Work Gets Done: Local Activism Through Kansas Conservation Societies” – An Archives and Special Collections Exhibit at the University of Kansas

June 20th, 2023

Inspired by the American Library Association’s “Libraries and Sustainability Virtual Book Club,” hosted during the Fall of 2022, the idea for an exhibit focused on environmental activism was born. We wanted to investigate which local conservation organizations’ materials are held at Spencer Research Library. We combed through boxes of materials from national conservation groups, Kansas chapters, and KU student chapters. Documents from organizations including the Jayhawk and Burroughs Audubon Societies, the Sierra Club of Kansas, and the Kansas Wildlife Federation showcase long-standing conservation efforts in the Lawrence, Kansas, area through task forces related to riparian conservation, water reclamation, the Clean Air Act, bird and buttery fly counts, and more. We also discovered that, within the central theme of local activism, calling community members to action on behalf of local and regional environmental concerns is woven throughout every aspect of the work that these organizations do. From bumper stickers to congressional papers, newsletters to posted fliers, the urgency of action is evident through the various channels of communication these organizations utilize. Not only do these materials document a network of local community efforts, but they also make for a visually appealing display of these important efforts.

Archival boxes, folders, and documents covering a large table in a library classroom.
Consulting and organizing collection materials for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.
Stacks of archival documents, with a person's hand writing in a notebook.
Exhibit curator Gwen Geiger Wolfe taking notes about materials. Click image to enlarge.

Challenges faced during the development of the exhibit were numerous and varied. For example, KU collections reflect that conservation engagement was heightened during the 1970s to the 1990s. This might be an accurate depiction of the context of the environmental movement, or it might reflect the need for further collection development in this area. Other examples were more logistic in nature and required flexibility to pivot around timelines, research processes, and themes of inquiry. The original theme focused specifically on Kansas Audubon Societies, of which there are several, but concerns regarding Audubon himself encouraged us to shift to the broader context of conservation, with the desire to highlight the important work accomplished through environmentally focused organizations and their members. Taken together, the resulting outcomes of facing these challenges have extended the timeline of the exhibition and motivated our desire to showcase the vital work of local environmentalists in Kansas.

Archival documents arranged in rows, covering a large table.
Selecting specific materials for inclusion in the exhibition. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibition opened in June and will be on display in Spencer’s North Gallery through July 2023. The selected materials are meant to inspire action and visitors can leave with a postcard they can send to friends and family to urge their participation in local environmental activism by joining a conservation group. Kansas-based organizations featured in the exhibit are invited to attend and share this experience with their members.

Exhibit case with installed items.
Installing the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

We would like to especially thank Pam Chaffee for allowing us to reproduce her photograph “Monarch Tagging with the Jayhawk Audubon Society” (Call Number: RH MS 691, Box 2, Folder 28), which adorns the postcard take-away for the exhibit. We also extend our thanks to Spencer and KU Libraries colleagues who were instrumental in supporting this exhibition: Angela Andres, Phil Cunningham, Molly Herring, Caitlin Klepper, Melissa Mayhew, Meredith Phares, and Nikki Pirch.

Jaime Groetsema Saifi
Special Collections Cataloging Coordinator, Spencer Research Library

Gwen Geiger Wolfe
Science and Engineering Librarian, KU Libraries