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Posts from the Rare Books Division

Charles Dickens and His Christmas Stories

A Christmas Carol continues, year after year, to be reworked, adapted, dramatized, enjoyed at home, and read in public settings. Perhaps less familiar are the dozens of Christmas stories that Charles Dickens penned in the twenty-five years that followed its publication. Read More ›

A Birthday Huzzah for Mr. Ford Madox Ford

December 17 marks British author, editor, and all-around literary icon Ford Madox Ford’s 141st birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I explored his writings in the Rare Book Division—and found some fascinating glimpses into his life and work.Read More ›

Where Did Times New Roman Come From?

An interesting footnote to the development of Times New Roman trickles down to us in the present day. The original hardware for the typeface—the “punches” that helped create the molds for casting type—were created jointly by the Monotype Corporation and the Linotype Company, the two main manufacturers of automated typesetting machines and equipment at that time. Both companies subsequently made sets of the type 

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Ben Franklin on Cooking Turkey... with Electricity

The options for cooking a turkey are seemingly endless, but leave it to founding father Benjamin Franklin to invent one more — electrocution.Read More ›

From Stage to Page with the Cranach Press's Hamlet

The Cranach Press enlisted the help of an international stable of artists and scholars to produce hand-made books that doubled as works of art. My favorite is an edition of Hamlet based on the text of Shakespeare’s Second Quarto. Read More ›

Imagining Ichabod Crane: Illustrated Editions in Rare Books

While the initial printing of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow contained no illustrations, the tale has since inspired many artists to create works evoking the strangely funny but frightful events in the story.Read More ›

Medium Rare: Ghostly Stories from Rare Books

On Halloween, we pull back the curtain between real and unreal, reveling in the spooky, mysterious, and inexplicable. What better way to celebrate the holiday than communing with the spirits and ghosts who reach out to us from the pages of the Rare Book Division?Read More ›

Happy Birthday, Moby-Dick!

In honor of the White Whale’s birthday, I have decided—like Herman Melville’s own sub-sub-librarian—to share “a glancing bird’s-eye view of what has been promiscuously said, thought, fancied, and sung of Leviathan” since Moby-Dick’s first appearance in 1851.Read More ›

Spies Among Us: World War I and The American Protective League

In the wake of the United States’ war declaration against Germany on April 6, 1917, dozens of extralegal vigilance organizations such as the Knights of Liberty, American Rights League, Boy Spies of America, American Defense Society, Sedition Slammers, National Security League, and the Terrible Threateners sought to ensure Americans’ full participation in the war effort, often through measures of intimidation, harassment, surveillance, and outright violence. Read More ›

Journey to the Center of the Library: Rare Books and Provenance

Columbus’s voyage made me think of the voyages our books take before arriving on the shelves of the New York Public Library. Who printed it? Who owned it previously? From whom did we buy it? Researchers are often interested in these questions, which all attempt to uncover a book’s provenance. In the Rare Book Division we look for clues, both within the book and in secondary sources, to answer questions of provenance and understand a book’s complete voyage.Read More ›

Before Kermit, There Was Catesby

My devotion to Kermit has led to a love for frogs in print as well, from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books to Ken Kimura's 999 Frogs. And whenever I examine illustrated natural histories in the Rare Book Division where I work, I'm always on the lookout for Kermit's amphibious ancestors.Read More ›

400 Years of Banned Books

September 21 – 27 is Banned Books Week, when libraries and other members of the book community support the freedom to read and raise awareness of challenges to this freedom. Sadly, the banning of books is not a new phenomenon—while Catcher in the Rye or Huckleberry Finn come to mind, you can find books banned as early as the sixteenth century in the Rare Book Division.Read More ›

Mark My Words: Printers’ Marks in the Rare Book Division

The penguin. The borzoi. When we peruse our bookshelves, we see spines decorated with the symbols of publishing houses. But this tradition is not modern: starting with the second book ever printed, members of the trade were making their presence known. These marks were words and illustrations carved into wood and included at the beginning or end of a book to indicate the printer responsible. In NYPL’s Rare Book Division, we have a treasure trove of printers’ marks to explore. Read More ›

Lydia Maria Child and Archival Research

By all accounts, Lydia Maria Child should be famous. An author, abolitionist, and advocate for human rights a full generation before that stance became widespread, Child remains an unsung hero—even though we continue to sing her lyrics to “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Read More ›

Documenting Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago, the world watched Beijing's Tiananmen Square, as demonstrations by Chinese citizens rallying for democracy drew the attention of Chinese military, with deadly results. Read More ›

Picturing Walt Whitman

The life and work of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) are prodigiously documented in the Oscar Lion Collection, held in the New York Public Library's Rare Books Division. Read More ›

The True Delights of Penny Dreadfuls

What’s not to love about Showtime’s new gothic series Penny Dreadful? It features Doctor Frankenstein and his monster, Dracula’s Mina Harker, and Wilde’s Dorian Gray, along with séances, ancient Egyptian vampires, gunslingers, serial killers, and maybe even a werewolf, set against the mysterious backdrop of Victorian London. Read More ›

Stuffed Animal Husbandry: Caring for Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends

The New York Public Library is the proud home of the REAL Winnie-the-Pooh, the actual toy teddy bear that once belonged to Christopher Robin Milne, son of A. A. Milne, and the basis for the character Christopher Robin in the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh stories.Read More ›

Camouflaged Anti-Nazi Literature

In the early eighties, rare book librarian John Rathe pulled down a dusty box, wrapped in twine, from a remote corner of the Rare Book room. Attached to the box was a label that said: "Do not open until war is over." Which war? The Civil War? The War of 1812? What he discovered was a box filled with disguised anti-Nazi tracts hidden in packets of tea and shampoo and concealed in miniature books both popular and scholarly.

Notice the concealed pamphlets sticking out of the packets of shampoo, tea, and tomato seeds.

A Brief History

On January 30, 

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Winter Fun for Kids and Cats

This snowy Saturday afternoon has brought to mind a couple of scenes from nineteenth-century children's books in the Rare Book Division. First, a scene of "Wintervergnügen" (winter fun) from Jugendspiele zur Erholung und Erheiterung (Tilsit, 1846). This is a two-volume work, one devoted to girls and one to boys. Sledding is categorized as one of the boys' games (Knabenspiele), but of course that needn't stop 

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