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Learning to Read a Book: An Account of a Rare Book Room Assistantship

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 3rd, 2020

Blog post by Jessica Kambara, LTAII/Rare Book Room assistant, WVRHC.

Woman between rows of bookshelves, standing on stool

During my sophomore year of college, I attended a class led by the curator of WVU’s rare book room, Stewart Plein, on Shakespeare’s Folios. Upon entering the rare book room, I thought I’d like to work there. The Rare Book room had a clean yet cozy atmosphere, and exuded an aura of history and prestige. Halfway through the class, after getting to leaf through the large folio pages of a book hundreds of years old, I was sure I wanted to work there. By the end, I had gotten a job. All it took was asking if there were any work opportunities available, and Stewart set me up with a capstone project and took me under her wing as her assistant.

The first position I ever took in the Rare Book room was effectively that of an intern; however, I was working for course credit and so had to treat it like a capstone project. My objectives were to educate myself on Rare Book room handling and terminology; to compile a portfolio of my inventory work; to create a display; and to present what I had learned. The work itself was quite straightforward. I had to sort through boxes of donated books, create an inventory, and do additional research to determine the historical and monetary value of the book. Stewart was there to guide me through the process, and often steered me if I was stumped. My most important task was to determine the value of a book—essentially data analysis.

Book value is determined by a number of factors: condition, rarity, edition, age, author, decoration, monetary value, historical significance, and educational potential. Often value was obvious—a rare, highly decorative book by a significant author in good condition was very valuable. However, there were gems within the seemingly insignificant. I took an interest in books produced during war, particularly World War II. I looked for patterns and shifts in patterns. For example, cheaply produced children’s book series are a dime a dozen—sometimes literally—but if you look at the quality and narrative structures you will find cultural shifts. Take the Buddy Series, a string of children’s books that ran for 16 years. For the most part, the majority of the series has little value; however, there is much to be learned from the editions published around World War II. Paper quality dips significantly during the war, an effect of wartime rationing; furthermore, the typical narratives of light-hearted adventures designed to teach good morals shift to tales of can collecting for the war effort and reporting your suspicious neighbor in Buddy and the Victory Club. This gives a better understanding of American wartime mentality, and how it manifested in children’s media. After all, the children taught to report their neighbors by the book, Buddy and the Victory Club, in 1943, were the same ones who grew up to partake in the paranoia of the Cold War and the second Red Scare.

Cover of book "Buddy and the Victory Club"
Garis, Howard R. Buddy and the Victory Club or a Boy and a Salvage Campaign. Cupples & Leon Company: New York. 1943.
Image source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

A book’s value can be found not only in its content and material, but also in how it recontextualizes historical periods. You can deduce a lot from what was the cultural norm by examining popular books. It is important to factor in that authors popular during their time might not have survived the modern day. Take Gene Stratton Porter—an author who still has her following, but is not nearly as recognizable as American authors like Jack London or F. Scott Fitzgerald despite being their peer. There is much to praise Gene Stratton-Porter for; she was a conservation activist, a successful American businesswoman, and a bestselling author. At the same time, there is also much to be learned from the startlingly normalized racism against people of Japanese origins in her book Her Father’s Daughter published in 1921. The casualness of how Stratton-Porter’s characters, who are meant to be likable and relatable, discriminate against Japanese people is completely normal. To many, the Japanese Concentration camps of 1942-1946, seem like an unbelievable failure of American morality. However, when contextualized with the reading material that the previous generation grew up with, the camps seem more like an inevitable product of long-standing xenophobia (in addition to being an unbelievable failure of American morality).

Cover of book "Her Father's Daughter"
Stratton-Porter, Gene. Her Father’s Daughter. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. 1921.
Image Source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

Often, historical importance can be found not just in narrative content or material—sometimes it can be in the publishers’ catalogue, which are often found at the end of the story at the back of the book. An otherwise insignificant book can tell you a lot if it also includes the publishers’ catalogue of available books. Compile enough book catalogues, and you can track shifts in advertisements that reflect cultural changes. For example, prior to World War I and II, book catalogues advertised children books as a gender-neutral category—both boys and girls could enjoy books such as The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.  However, as war took over media, book advertisements split into boy books and girl books. Book about war were in high demand, but seen as too violent for girls, and so they were specifically advertised to boys. True to Newton’s third law, girl books went in an opposite direction and focused on things like light-hearted countryside adventures.

By the end of my semester capstone, I had compiled a detailed twenty-page portfolio of my key finds. After learning to read books in a new way and finalizing my portfolio, I then had to transform that information into a real-world tool for education. This is commonly done via displays. As part of my capstone, I set up a library exhibit on war influenced books which was displayed in the WVU library. For my final capstone requirement, I gave a public presentation on what I had learned and the significance of my project and wrote a paper on my overall work.

After I had completed my course credit, I continued to work for Stewart into my junior year as a work-study student. My tasks shifted from an educational approach to a work approach, and in a way was much more simplified while also more complicated. I was no longer expected to produce a gradable project, but I also had to do more diverse work.

My first assignment taught me the importance of organization and job creation—as poor organization had created a summer job for me. A series of unfortunate developments had left important microfilms mixed in a sea of hundreds of other microfilms (please note, this organizational job was not done by WVU staff, but by an outside source). This was the first and last time I worked with the WVU depository—or the depo. The depo is a storage site. It has a small office, and a large warehouse with a towering celling filled with high shelves full of boxes; the highest of which required an aerial platform to reach. It was similar to what you might expect in a factory warehouse, only with better temperature and humidity control. With the aid of depository staff to assist me with heavy lifting, I sorted through dozens and dozens of heavy boxes of newspaper film. Although tedious, there are lessons in blunders and this work certainty taught me the importance of organization, being conscientious of how your work can impact others, and instilled a greater appreciation for the behind the scenes work of acquiring research material.

Exterior view of brick building with the sign "Libraries' Depository"

After that assignment, my work took a return to form as I came back to the Rare Book room to compile inventories of collections—including my largest inventory of 311 Lewis and Clark related items. I also took on the occasional bit of side work, like boxing books or applying clear Brodart book cover sleeves, used to preserve dust jackets, or scanning book covers.

My next big project would be creating a Shakespeare Inventory of Rare Book room books and cross-referencing my inventory against the WVU library database to oversee updates and check for errors. Over the years, WVU’s Rare Book room has compiled one of the most impressive collections of Shakespeare’s work and related content, including an incredibly rare set of Shakespeare’s folios. The time had come when Stewart needed this impressive collection to be inventoried and I set about it. 

Each item added to the Rare Book room was naturally recorded in the WVU Library catalog database; however, shifting books and understandable cataloging mistakes can cause discrepancies. And so, to make sure our database was accurate and up to date, I began to cross-reference all the physical copies of the Shakespeare books in the Rare Book room against all the Shakespeare books in the database. At times, locating books was like being on an Easter egg hunt as things like size and value could result in atypical shelving.  When I was near the end of my inventorying, I experienced a valuable but painful lesson in backing up information. A mishap resulted in my inventory being deleted and I had to restart. In the end, I created a thirty-page inventory with 183 items.

For a nice change of pace, I also got to work with art and ventured into the libraries central storage area to make an inventory of a collection of donated artworks.

Woman standing at vertical shelves containing artwork

In the midst of working on another large inventory, I had to stop due to the minor issue of graduation, no longer qualifying as a work-study student. That is where I thought my work with WVU and Stewart would end, when I was again called upon to tackle another collection. This time I was hired as a temporary librarian assistant and tasked with organizing a vulnerable collection.

Many issues can be the unfortunate bane of a bookkeeper’s existence. Books are more sensitive than people think, and if humidity and temperature cannot be properly regulated, books may suffer, making them vulnerable to a variety of issues that can cause deterioration such as increased brittleness, mold, and insects, that can invade and spread rapidly between tightly wedged books. Certain precautions, such as masks and gloves, are a must as exposure can lead you to developing a lower tolerance to these issues in addition to other ailments.

In this case, a recently donated collection had problems. Some books were still good, and some were not. Book material is a big factor. I was working with older cloth bound books and leather—paperbacks and a lot of newer books were unaffected. I quickly went about organizing the collection, relocating fragile books to separate shelves and sorting them according to their level of vulnerability. 

Unfortunately, another type of bio-hazardous spread impacted my work halfway through sorting. Covid-19 resulted in WVU closing the libraries, and with that I began a life of remote work.

Remote work was a strange change of pace from my hands-on work. I could not inventory what I could not see, and so I took the opportunity to educate myself on book history, book care, and other topics that had long interested me. I edited audio files, wrote blog posts, and did beta work for Stewart. Now, at the close of my temp assignment, I’m completing my final task—writing a reflection.

I’m very grateful to all the WVU library staff who aided me in my work, and especially grateful to Stewart Plein for providing me with the opportunity to return again and again.

How to Tell the Age of a Book

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
May 11th, 2020

Blog post by Jessica Kambara, LTAII/Rare Book Room assistant, WVRHC.

Historical events are not only recorded in the content of books. All parts of a book contain information, from the cover design to the paper to the damage sustained over time.  Book characteristics vary widely depending on the region and time period they were produced; things like war, national affluence, religious movements, and literacy rates all affect book making. Bibliography or bibliology is the study of books and a wide field of study, as such, it cannot be mastered in one day. However, this guide will break down some simple ways to tell the age of a book and serve as a basic introduction to the history of books.

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Celebrating Shakespeare and the First Folio

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
April 23rd, 2020

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away.

This quote from Shakespeare’s play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” (Act I, Scene 3, lines 85-88), describes just what the poet T.S. Eliot was thinking when he described April as “the cruelest month.”  That may be true, but for lovers of Shakespeare, April is the month of his birth, and also his death.  Though the dates of Shakespeare’s birth and death cannot be established with any certainty, April 23 is considered the likely date for both events.  The only extant record that comes close to recording his birth date is a baptismal notice for April 26, 1564.  His passing is believed to have taken place on April 23, 1616.  It is entirely possible that the same date applies to both life events.

These lines are from his most famous work, the collected plays, titled Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, published seven years after his death in 1623.  Known colloquially as the first folio, it is considered to be the most important work ever published in the English language.

Preface and title page image of the first folio: British Library

The first two pages of the folio contain a preface, on the left, and the title page with a portrait of Shakespeare, on the right.  The placement of these items is important, not just because they fulfil the placement of preface and title page that is standard in books, but because they connect so importantly to each other.

The preface, “To the Reader,” appears in the format of a poem written by Ben Jonson, a colleague of Shakespeare, and a well-known playwright, whose plays were the first to be printed “in folio.”  What does printing “in folio” actually mean?  The word “folio” simply refers to the size of the paper used.  A folio is printed on a large size paper.  This was very uncommon for the publication of plays, which were usually printed in a smaller size, called a quarto.  Jonson’s collected plays were the first to be printed “in folio,” and this had a huge influence on the publication of Shakespeare’s plays in the same size.

Ben Jonson’s preface “To the Reader”

                             To the Reader

This figure, that thou here sees put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut;
Wherein the graver had a strife
With nature, to outdo the life:
O, could he have but drawn his wit
As well in brass, as he has hit
His face, the print would then surpass
All, that was ever written in brass.
But, since he cannot, Reader look
Not on his picture, but his book.

We can see that the text of this preface, above, looks very different than today’s English.  The English language is in transition at this time.  Spelling and letterforms have yet to be standardized.  We see things here that we don’t recognize, such the “long s,” which looks like an “f” without the crossbar, the interchangeable use of letters “u” and “v,” and the ligature of the letters “ct,” to reinforce the sound they make when spoken.  These lines, the modern translation is on the right, have an important purpose, they describe the portrait of Shakespeare on the title page.  It is considered to be the only portrait of Shakespeare created during his lifetime.  It is an engraving by the artist, Martin Droeshout, who was known as a “graver,” taken from the word “engraver.”  The engraving is cut onto brass which was used for printing.  Since Shakespeare had been dead seven years, and many people did not know him, Jonson’s message and the portrait is important.  Yes, the portrait is good, but it can’t capture his wit, move on, read the book!

Shakespeare wrote his plays specifically for the King’s Men, a group of actors who performed exclusively at the Globe Theater.  Not only did he write the plays they performed but he acted in them as well.  It was this group of actors that brought the collected plays to the printers, William Jaggard and his son Isaac, to be published.  Without them, we would not know eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays, including my favorite, Macbeth. The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, and Julius Caesar, among others, would be lost.  All of these plays would remain unknown to us without this book.

Names of the Principal Actors Catalogue image: British Library

The names of all the actors that appeared in the King’s Men is printed on the page on the left.  Shakespeare himself gets top billing.  John Hemmings and Henry Condell are the actors who led the charge to publish Shakespeare’s collected plays.  They are also responsible for organizing the plays under the categories of histories, comedies, and tragedies, as shown on the catalogue or contents page on the right.

In this blog post we’ve talked about Shakespeare, his actors, and his plays. We’ve talked about Ben Jonson and we’ve talked about the publication of the first folio – but we haven’t talked about why it’s called the “first” folio.  It is the first folio because it is the first publication of Shakespeare’s collected plays.  Interest in Shakespeare’s works continued long after the first collection sold out, leading to the publication of additional editions.  In all, there were four folios:  the first, published in 1623, the second, published in 1632, the third, published in 1664, and the fourth and final folio, published in 1685.  Of course, Shakespeare’s works continues to be published to this day. But the folios are the most important editions of his dramatic works.

This is the book that made Shakespeare what he is to us today.  West Virginia University’s West Virginia and Regional History Center rare books collections owns all four of Shakespeare’s folios, thanks the generous gift of Arthur Dayton’s Shakespeare collection, given by his wife, Ruth, in 1951.  Dayton, a WVU alumnus, was a passionate collector whose goal was to acquire all four of Shakespeare’s folios. These books are among the most prized in the rare books collection.  The folios are regularly made available to students and faculty for use in classes in the rare book room and these are some of the facts I share with students when they visit the rare book room.  Thanks to Mr. Dayton’s gift, Shakespeare’s folios have educated generations of students at WVU and will continue to do so for future generations.

Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio by Emma Smith

If you’d like to learn more about Shakespeare and the first folio, I highly recommend The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio, by Emma Smith.  Smith’s book is written in a manner that informs scholars and interested readers alike.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Resources:

The Jemima Code: Three Centuries of African American Cookbooks

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 25th, 2020

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Book cover of The Jemima Code, featuring an African American woman chef

A new book on our shelves, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, by Toni Tipton-Martin, documents more than 150 black cookbooks published in America.  The cookbooks range from a rare 1827 house servant’s manual, the first book published by an African American in the trade, to modern classics by authors like Edna Lewis.  Each book is listed chronologically and illustrated with their covers.  Recipes are also included. According to the listing on Amazon, this book “offers important firsthand evidence that African Americans cooked creative masterpieces from meager provisions, educated young chefs, operated food businesses, and nourished the African American community through the long struggle for human rights.”

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A New Way of Looking at Thomas Jefferson’s Legal Dictionary

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 16th, 2019

By McKayla Herron, Graduate Assistant at the WVRHC

Working as a graduate assistant at the WV&RHC, I have been surrounded by amazing archival materials. This semester I had the opportunity to undertake an in-depth study of Thomas Jefferson’s Common Law Dictionary, one of the many treasures found in our Rare Book Collection, as part of my coursework for ARHS 412: Collections Care and Preservation of Material Objects. (This book was featured in a previous post by Rare Book Librarian Stewart Plein.) Utilizing a microscope to examine the book, I was able to learn more about the materials that comprise it and the techniques used to make it.

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Celebrating Shakespeare’s 455th Birthday on April 23

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 24th, 2019

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Portrait of William Shakespeare

Spring is here and what better way to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 455th birthday, than to look at the way he used flowers in his plays. 

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An Afternoon with Isaac Asimov: Talk and Exhibit

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 7th, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Wednesday, October 31, the Rare Book Room, part of the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the WVU Libraries, hosted an event to highlight one of our extraordinary collections: the works of Isaac Asimov.  This event was designed to recognize our extensive Asimov collection and to celebrate our donors.

The event included an exhibit, shown below, that was on display in the Downtown Campus Library Atrium, and a talk by Nebula award winning author Andy Duncan, Professor of Writing at Frostburg State University.

Student viewing Isaac Asimov materials in glass cases in the library atrium

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Out of this World! Isaac Asimov in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 6th, 2018

Image of a planetarium and a starry, moon-filled sky

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Although Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, passed away in 1992, his work lives on in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room.  One of the most prolific science fiction authors of the twentieth century, Asimov made a huge impact on how we view the future.

Asimov was responsible for more than 500 authored and edited publications.  Among his most popular novels are the Foundation Trilogy, The Martian Way, and The Stars like Dust.  Books that were turned into movies include I, Robot, the Fantastic Voyage, and the Bicentennial Man.

Perhaps Asimov’s single most important work is the short story/novella, Nightfall, published in 1941.  This story is considered the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards, the organization responsible for recognizing the best in science fiction or fantasy published in the United States.  The Rare Book Room holds important copies of Nightfall in a variety of formats, including books and records.  Its popularity led the story to be adapted for radio, film, podcast, and vinyl.  Read the rest of this entry »

A New Gift for the Rare Book Room: Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens, Illustrated with Paintings by Maxfield Parrish

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
June 12th, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Cover of book "Italian Villas and their Gardens" including gold details and an image of a garden with fountain, flanked by an image of a woman with a basket of grapes on the left and a garden with trees and a building on the right

Recently, the WVU Libraries received a large gift from the late Lucinda Ebersole, a collector, book lover, publisher, and bookstore owner, totaling over 11,000 books.  Yes, that’s right, over 11,000 books.  This extensive collection arrived in near pristine condition, all books in their original dust jackets, and with many rare and antiquarian titles included.  Today on the blog, I would like to highlight a book from the collection that I am very excited about, one of those rare and antiquarian titles that I have longed to have in the collection.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Dark Side of Butterflies: The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in William Henry Edwards Butterflies of North America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 26th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

The great West Virginia coal magnate, William Henry Edwards, was a butterfly lover at heart.  Edwards lived in Coalburg, a small town outside Charleston, and he is credited as the first to open the Southern Coalfields.  When coal shipments were threatened by the events of the Civil War, Edwards found a way to get his coal to market, shipping it by boat.  He was the first to ship coal for export to the North by water.  He was also the first to document the life cycle of butterflies throughout North America and his three volume set of books on butterflies is still considered to be the reigning masterwork on the subject.  Read the rest of this entry »

A New Gift for the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
July 31st, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Posed photo of Mike Murphy, Stewart Plein, and John Cuthbert

A seventeenth century book has found a new home in the WVU Rare Book Room.  WVU alumnus, Mike Murphy, above left, with Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian, and John Cuthbert, Director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, recently donated a religious text published in Seville, Spain by Ioannis (Juan) de Cardenas of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit monastic order.   Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Astronomical! The Biggest Book in the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
May 8th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Colored book plate of November Meteors

The Rare Book Room is home to books both big and small, but the largest book by far is Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings, published in New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881.  Measuring a whopping 42 ½” in height by 14 ½” wide, Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings is actually a portfolio collection of prints documenting observations of the night sky.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Visit to the Rare Book Room: A Tweet Story

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 3rd, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

When Sharon Kelly, WVU Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English, reached out to me to ask if her class could come to the Rare Book Room as an extra credit activity I jumped at the chance to share WVU’s rare book collection with Sharon’s students.  The following is a series of tweets between the instructor and her class documenting the process of arranging for a class to visit the Rare Book Room and the students’ excitement once they began to experience the collections.

 

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Portraits of Appalachia: Stereotypical Images of the Mountain Man on Local Color Literature

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 19th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian. This post originally appeared on the Books Tell You Why blog.

How is stereotype developed and how is it spread? Historically, books have played a role as purveyors of stereotype, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s easy to think of a book’s text as promoting stereotypical points of view, but the book’s cover design is just as influential.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, book cover design was an unwitting influence on the development of the Appalachian stereotype. The artistic portraits of Appalachia and Appalachians found on the covers of books widely dispersed to reading audiences across the nation had a lasting impact on the stereotypical image of Appalachia.

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun

Much like the travel writing of earlier times, local color literature, a popular style in its day, was designed to provide the reading public with intimate glimpses into specific regions across the nation. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sarah Orne Jewett wrote of the regional flavor of New England. Mark Twain and Bret Harte captured the excitement of the West, and writers like John Fox, Jr. and Mary Noailles Murfree, who wrote under the pen name Charles Egbert Craddock, were among the many authors who wrote of the Appalachian region.

In the case of Appalachian local color literature, the decorated book cover and local color writing converged at a specific point in time that was crucial to the formation of Appalachian stereotypes. The decorative cover was an important element of the book, serving to reinforce the image of Appalachia as portrayed by local colorists. In this regard, the book’s image was as important as the image provided by the printed text in the development of the stereotypical image of Appalachia and Appalachians.

When we look at the book cover in partnership with the text, we begin to understand the important role book binding design played in the development of the stereotypes and misconceptions of the Appalachian region and its people. Designed as a marketing tool, the book cover served as an attractive means to draw the prospective purchaser to the book. As such, the book’s cover became the controlling influence. This influence was exerted from the very beginning, with the publishers’ continual desire over the course of a century to make the book attractive and appealing to consumers.

This integration of image and Appalachia on the cover of books began with the reconstruction of Appalachia as the American frontier in the mid nineteenth century. During this time period, as America became more urban, there was a ready market for books that offered tales of the frontier featuring rugged backwoodsmen like Daniel Boone. It was a time of looking back and longing for the frontier spirit.

Cover of book Our Western Border showing a man holding a gun leaning out over a cliff

The great frontier hero, Daniel Boone, on the cover of McKnight’s Our Western Border, shown above, is surrounded by a complex wilderness. In this design Boone carefully leans over a mountain cliff, looking down to the river below, watching Indians canoeing upstream. He is pictured as a competent woodsman and explorer, living life free, without restraint, in verdant forests filled with danger. It was a time idealized by the book.

But soon, book cover designs on Appalachian local color literature would change as they began to mirror the prevailing attitudes about Appalachians and the Appalachian region, changing over time as attitudes changed. The idea of the mountaineer as backwoods philosopher/woodsman evolved as America became more urbanized while Appalachia’s development was seen as static.

Cover of book Red-Head showing a man with a gun, crouching

The rugged mountaineer on the cover of Lloyd’s Red Head, (1903) above, crouches with his rifle at the ready.  Is he expecting trouble? Is he lying in wait for an ambush?  To know the answer to these questions we must read the book. The cover draws us in, but no longer is the mountain man shown as master of the wilderness. His depiction has changed to one of an outlaw, rather than a pioneer. The design of the book cover is the first tool used to draw us in, to convey some idea of the story itself, and it provides clues to the pervasive ideas of turn of the century culture and attitudes.

As the Appalachian stereotype changed and evolved, portrayals of the mountain man often fell into three distinct and recognizable categories: hunting, feuding, and moonshining. These concepts are, in essence, three images that were repeatedly used on the covers of books and it is these images that helped to develop the stereotypical portrait of the Appalachian mountain man we know today.

Hunting

The mountain man, although depicted here as a hunter, is not shown in command of the wilderness, but as a hunter/gatherer/provider. The mountaineer on this cover returns at the end of the day with a full sack, a gun over his shoulder, and his dog by his side (below).

Cover of book The Men of the Mountains showing a man holding a gun and a sack, walking with a dog

Feuding

The rising smoke of a recently fired rifle is the key to these images, below. To the world outside of Appalachia the feud is now recognized as the only form of mountain justice.

Cover of book Stories of Kentucky Feuds showing a man holding a smoking gun

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun

Moonshining

Ever on the lookout, the mountain man is seen protecting his still from advancing revenuers, below.

Cover_Camp

Preserving the Historical Record of Appalachia

As our tastes in literature have changed over time, these books, once prominent best sellers, have fallen into disrepair through heavy use followed by long periods of neglect. In libraries, most have been stripped of their original bindings and rebound. The few that remain are prime candidates for preservation.

By collecting, examining and preserving these books, bound with images that reflect nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas on a specific region and its people, we can view the development of stereotype through the progressive history of idea.

The cover image serves as a gateway to the text, and it is the first indication of the book’s contents. As a marketing tool, the cover design was a compelling way to attract customers and provide a glimpse of the book’s contents. It is the combined image, the book’s text as well as its binding, which served to promote an idea and make it a real and lasting concept.

These books, once commonly found in every home and library are now fragile resources over 100 years old. Preserving these books is important as representations of the historical record of Appalachia in material and pop culture and as evidence of cultural viewpoints that linger to the present day.

Editor’s Note [from Books Tell You Why]: Many thanks to Stewart Plein for her insightful post and for sharing it with the Books Tell You Why community. Below, please find a list of the books shown above (in order of appearance), as well as links to a journal article published by Ms. Plein which she used as reference for this post. If you have questions or thoughts about this topic, leave her a comment! 

  • Spivak, John Louis. The Devil’s Brigade; The Story of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.  NY: Brewer and Warren, Inc., 1930.
  • McKnight, Charles. Our Western Border, in Early Pioneer Days: containing the true account of western frontier life and struggle in the most heroic age of America . . . Chicago: Educational Company, 1902.
  • Lloyd, John Uri. Red Head.  Illustrated by Reginald B Birch.  NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903.
  • Spaulding, Arthur Whitefield. The Men of the Mountains; the Story of the Southern Mountaineer and His Kin of the Piedmont; with an account of some of the agencies of progress among them. Nashville, Tenn., Atlanta, Ga. Southern Pub. Association, 1915.
  • Coates, Harold Wilson. Stories of Kentucky Feuds. Knoxville, Tenn., Holmes-Darst Coal Corp., 1942.
  • Eggleston, George Cary. Camp Venture, A Story of the Virginia MountainsAdventures Among the Moonshiners.  Boston: Lothrop Pub. Co., 1901.

Journal of Appalachian Studies article: “Portraits of Appalachia: The Identification of Stereotype in Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1850 – 1915.”  Fall 2009, Vol. 15 Issue 1/2, p 99-115.  Available from EbscoHost: http://tinyurl.com/portraitsofappalachia. Available on Academia.edu: https://wvu.academia.edu/StewartPlein/Publications.

 

Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks and Mirror Writing: Two notebook replicas available to examine in the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 28th, 2016

Blog post by Beth Toren, WVU Libraries’ Media, Religious Studies, and Research Services Librarian

Early scientific journals were the private notebooks of scientists. Luxurious replicas of two notebooks by 15th Century Italian artist, mathematician, inventor and writer Leonardo da Vinci are available to examine in the WVU Libraries Rare Book Room. Leonardo wrote in Italian and using mirrored writing, writing backwards from right to left and illustrating with drawings. The notebooks contain his observations and brainstorming on multiple subjects in text, diagrams, and illustrations.

The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes:

Replicas of The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes

Read the rest of this entry »

"I sing my song, and all is well" – When Malindy Sings comes to the WVRHC

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 18th, 2016

Blog post by Ashleigh Coren, Resident Librarian, WVU Libraries.

Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

The Rare Book Collection in the West Virginia & Regional History Center recently acquired Ohioan Paul Laurence Dunbar’s (1872-1906) When Malindy Sings, an illustrated book of poems and photographs published in 1903 by Dodd, Mead and Company. While the Rare Book Collection is home to a variety of wonderfully illustrated rare books, the six Dunbar books in our collection: Howdy, Honey, Howdy; Poems of Cabin and Field; Candle-Lightin’ Time, Folks from Dixie, Li’L’ Gal, and now When Malindy Sings, are in a category of their own. Dunbar, who Darwin Turner hails as “a symbol of the creative and intellectual potential of the Negro,” died at the early age of 33. The six decorated books in the Rare Book Room showcase the wonderful marriage between text and image that was prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century. The Dunbar collection is a great example of what booksellers and bibliophiles refer to as decorated Publishers’ Bindings.  Read the rest of this entry »

Puck, the Magazine, 1871 to 1918

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 5th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Puck Magazine Masthead

At first glance, Puck may not be what you might consider one of the jewels among the collections in the Rare Book Room, however, it is an important publication that deserves its place in those rarified surroundings.  In its day, Puck was known as a magazine that satirized American politics and politicians, reporting events, sports and fashion trends throughout its run during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Read the rest of this entry »

William Henry Edwards and the Butterflies of North America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 2nd, 2015

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Colored images of butterflies from Edwards book Butterflies of North America

William Henry Edwards’ (1822 – 1909) business was coal.  Although born in New York, Edwards spent most of his adult life in Coalburg, a small town outside Charleston, West Virginia.  As a co-founder of the Kanawha and Ohio Coal Company, Edwards moved to Coalburg in order to be closer to his mining operations.

William H. Edwards portrait

However, the real love of his life was butterflies.  Read the rest of this entry »

BANNED!

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 5th, 2015

Woodcut from story of Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

The serendipitous convergence of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and this year’s Banned Books Week has me thinking of an earlier collision between a pope and a book.  Read the rest of this entry »

Books Make the Perfect Gift

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 8th, 2014

illustrated holly leaves and berries

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

As the holiday season approaches, let’s take a look back at gift books from the rare book collection in the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  These books were designed to capitalize on the holiday season or they were given as holiday gifts.  Read the rest of this entry »