THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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96 posts categorized "History"

12 April 2017

The buck starts here: Early paper money from British Colonial America in the British Library

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The currency of the United States is used globally in addition to being a national icon and international cultural symbol. Before the War of Independence (1775-1783) each of the thirteen colonies that eventually established the United States were under British colonial rule and all faced significant challenges regarding their monetary supply. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries various types of currency were used as a medium of exchange. The official coinage was denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, however as few British coins were available in America the colonies were compelled to rely upon foreign specie such as the Spanish Dollar that was much more freely available and explains why the United States eventually adopted the dollar. On occasion there was even a shortage of dollars, forcing colonies to occasionally use commodities like tobacco, beaver pelts and wampum beads as a medium of exchange. Finally, to tackle the shortage of currency the colonies also issued paper money.

Since each colony was a self-governing settlement whose administrators were answerable to the British Crown they each printed their own paper money. The first was the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1690, four years prior to the establishment of the Bank of England, making it the first authorised paper money issued by any government in the western world. The remaining colonies soon followed suit and by the mid-eighteenth century each had developed a sophisticated paper monetary system. Known as bills of credit they were essentially fiat currency rather than notes which could be exchanged for gold and silver. Depreciation of such notes could and did occur which was harmful to British creditors, consequently the British Parliament passed a number of Currency Acts to restrict paper money issues to circumvent the problem. These Acts like the 1765 Stamp Act soured colonial relations with Britain laying the foundations for the War of Independence.  The British Library possesses five original notes, the earliest being a thirty shillings bill issued by the Colony of New Jersey on 16 April 1764 printed by James Parker depicted in images one and two.

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The obverse face of the note is bi-coloured being printed in red and black inks. It has a complex engraving of the Royal Coat of Arms whilst the lettering is in a variety of typefaces. Theoretically the registration of the two ink colours, varied scripts and complexity of the armorial engraving would require considerable skill, time and money making the notes unprofitable to counterfeit. Being a denomination insignia, the engraved half-sun on the note is another security feature.

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The design on the reverse face of the note is based upon a security feature invented by Benjamin Franklin for the 1737 New Jersey paper money issue. Franklin developed a method of printing from leaf casts via a copper plate press for transferring a sage leaf image onto the back of paper money bills. Since a leaf is a unique object it theoretically provided complex fingerprint for each bill which would be impossible to counterfeit accurately.

 

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 The second note depicted in the collection is a ten pound bill issued by the Colony of New York on 16 February 1771 with manuscript signatures of Theophylact Bache, Walter Franklin and A. Lott in addition to a unique serial number. Printed in black ink on thin laid paper by Hugh Gaine, the ornamental upper border and arms of New York depicted on the obverse face were actually engraved by Elisha Gallaudet. Like other notes in the collection there is a verbal warning “Tis death to counterfeit.” Curiously, following a spate of forgeries in 1773 the Colonial Authorities authorised that images of the counterfeiters hanging from the gallows could be pasted onto the reverse face of the notes to discourage forgers but this was never carried out.

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The third note is a four dollar bill issued by the colony of Maryland on 10 April 1764 with manuscript signatures of John Clapham and William Eddis with a unique serial number. Information on designers, engravers and printing of paper money is sporadic at the best of times. However since this note is known to have been printed by Anne Catherine Green and Frederick Green it offer a rare glimpse of the role women played in the Security Printing Industry. Finally as an alternative to watermarked paper this bill was printed on thin paper containing mica flakes to help prevent forgery.

This two shillings six pence bill issued by the colony of Pennsylvania on 3 April 1772 possesses the manuscript signatures of Adam Hubley, Joel Evans and John Mifflin in addition to a unique serial number. It was once again printed by Hall and Sellers in black ink bearing the arms of the Penn Family on special security paper which contains blue thread and mica flakes. Some of these bills bearing this date can contain the signature of John Morton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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The final bill is a twenty shillings note issued in Delaware on 1st January 1776 signed in manuscript by John McKinly and Boaz Manlove with a unique serial number. The note was printed in black ink by James Adams who had once worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia

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Comparison of these notes to contemporary ones issued by Bank of England in Britain shows they are arguably more accomplished in terms of their complex engraving, letterings, use of coloured inks and range of security features. Although less iconic than the modern currency they do display the technical brilliance which helped develop the United States into the world’s leading economic power and banknote printers.

 

By Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Further Reading Eric P. Newman: The early paper money of America, (5th Ed, Krause Publications, 2008)

Farley Grubb: Benjamin Franklin and the birth of a paper money economy (Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 2006)

Images are taken a volume containing a collection of paper money (The British Library, c. 143.d.5)

 

 

 

29 March 2017

Did you know about the Museum of French Art in New York?

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The “Museum of French Art” in New York, founded as a society in 1911, was a subsection of the French Institute in the United States dedicated to arts. It was housed with the French Institute in the United States on 599 Fifth Avenue, New York City, had a Gallery with permanent French art collections, a library and a reading room. It held temporary exhibitions of French art loaned by private collectors. The Museum of French Art was most active until the 1930s, at a time when the opening of museums and art galleries was booming in New York.

French Museum plan

Plans for the building of the French Art Museum in the United States, 1919 from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français. ([New York], 1919) British Library RB.31.C.836.

When the Museum of French Art was created, Fifth Avenue was already home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in 1872, and for the Henry Clay Frick House, built in 1912-1914, whose collections were opened to the public in 1935. The Museum of Modern Art also opened on Fifth Avenue on 7 November, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. The Museum of French Art was inspired not only by fine arts museums but also by institutions like the “South Kensington Museum” (founded after the 1851 Great Exhibition, now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the more recent Musée des arts décoratifs de Paris created in 1905. It was never built as a distinct monument, though its trustees tried to raise funds for this purpose: in 1919, plans for such a construction were published at the end of the catalogue of its first official exhibition.

French Museum Jusserand

French Ambassador Jules Jusserand with Mme Jusserand, 1918 (Image from the Library of Congress)

The idea for the creation of a French Institute in the United States emerged at a council of the Alliance Française of New York. The institute had three subsections: the “Museum of French Art”, whose aim was to promote French Fine Arts and to be a window for French arts and crafts, past and present; the “Entente France-America”, focused on commerce, industry and science; and the “French Union”, a society dedicated to Belles Lettres: Literature, History and philosophy. The French Institute and its art section offered French language courses, technical courses on French arts and crafts, it awarded French language prizes to high school students and organised concerts and lectures for the public and for its members. The British Library holds the programme of a Gala Concert held in 1913 by the Museum of French Art in honour of the French Ambassador in Washington and his American wife, Mr et Mme Jusserand.

French Museum Concert Programme

Programme for a Gala Concert offered by the Museum of French Art to the French Ambassador at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 14th, 1913. (New York, [1913]) d.488.l.(10.)

 

The suna

Advertisement for an exhibition of the Museum of French Art, The Sun, 25 January 1920.  NEWS12364

The first official exhibitions held at the Museum of French Art in 1918, 1919 and 1920, were organised chronologically (“From the Gothic Period to the Regence”, “Periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI”, “The Directoire and Empire Periods”). In 1920, the chairman of the Exhibitions department of the French Art Museum, Mrs Henry Mottet, donated to the British Museum (along with 20 major European and American museums and libraries) a copy of the catalogues for the first two exhibitions, which were published in large format limited editions of 100 copies.

French Museum interior 1

French Museum interior 2

Images from The First Official Loan Exhibition of the Museum of French Art, held in 1918, from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français.

 

Later exhibitions focused on specific French artists: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1922), Odilon Redon (1922), Picasso, Braque, Léger (1931), Degas (1931), Renoir (1931), Derain and Vlaminck (1932) and historical characters: “Napoléon and l'Aiglon” (1927), the Marquis de Lafayette (1930). Other exhibitions had a particular thematical, historical or geographical focus: “Fans and handiwork of court and home life, XVIth to XIXth centuries” (1926-1927), “The art and customs of the Basque country of southwestern France” (1927), “Silken textiles of France: Louis XIII to Louis Philippe” (1928), “Ecclesiastical arts of France” (1928), “French prints from the XVth century to the XXth century” (1932).

The Director of the Museum of French Art was Emile McDougall Hawkes, founder and first president of the Institut Français in the United States, a lawyer and engineer from New York who had studied in France and Germany, was active in several Franco-American cultural associations based in New York, including the Alliance Française, focusing on French language teaching outside of France, and he received the French distinction of Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur. He was a trustee of the Foundation of another Francophile and patrons of the arts, John Sanford Saltus.

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 McDougall Hawkes, by John Bow?, 1910

 

A portrait of McDougall Hawkes, dated from 1910, and signed l.l., possibly John Bow, was sold in 2015 by Cowan’s Auctions. It bears a plaque inscribed “McDougall Hawkes, First Chairman of the Board of Trustees, 1911-1929, Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States”.

McDougall Hawkes was also involved in other trade and science organisations, including the French-American Chamber Commerce, “Entente France-America”, a society which aimed “to develop commercial, industrial, economic and scientific relations between the American and French peoples” (New York Times, 11 Aug 1916), and the French-American Medical, Chemical and Physics Society.

Biscuit de Sèvres tp

Title-page, with McDougall Hawkes’ inscription, from Le Biscuit de Sèvres. Recueil des modèles de la manufacture de Sèvres au XVIIIe siècle ([Paris, 1921]) 7808.s.7.

When McDougall Hawkes visited the British Museum in 1922, he donated to the library a signed copy of Le Biscuit de Sèvres by Émile Bourgeois and Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, illustrated by many plates.

Biscuit de Sèvres ill

Plate from Le Biscuit de Sèvres.

 

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance languages

References:

Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States. Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français. Tome I: l’Art gothique. First annual official loan exhibition of French art, January 29th to February 12th, 1918.  Catalogue: Gothic period to the Régence. Tome II, Le dix-huitième siècle. Catalogue of the second annual official loan exhibition of French art: periods of Louis XV & XVI, held at the gallery of the Museum in the city of New York, January 14 to January 29, 1919. ([New York?]: Privately printed, 1919). RB.31.C.836 and RB.31.C.837.

 “The French Institute and Museum of French Art in the United States”, The Lotus Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Jun., 1912), pp. 267-280. [JSTOR]

“To Develop French Trade: Prominent New Yorkers Incorporate Entente France-America”, New York Times, 11 Aug 1916, p. 11.  MFM.MA3

 

08 March 2017

Marking International Women’s Day: The Lowell Offering

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To celebrate International Women’s Day we’re showcasing The Lowell Offering (1840-45), an extraordinary periodical that students from Royal Holloway asked to see when they attended a research training session here last week: and with good reason! In its short life this monthly periodical provided female textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts – where women comprised 75% of the workforce – with a unique opportunity to see their poetry, ballads, songs, historical and religious essays or works of fiction in print.

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The Lowell Offering, Vol. 1, 1840; shelfmark P.P.6242

Perhaps surprisingly – given the ‘dark satanic mills’ of Victorian Britain – many women in New England initially regarded factory work as a well-paid alternative to teaching. The literacy rate amongst the operatives was high, and the creation of self-improvement societies was widespread; indeed, the Offering sprang from one such group. Writing about its origins, Harriet Farley – the Offering’s second editor – recalled that her group met fortnightly to read and listen to the written contributions of its members. Gradually the membership declined, yet the quality of the contributions kept improving and someone suggested compiling the contributions into ‘a little book’. This idea ‘was talked about in whispers’ but was soon supplanted by something even more audacious: a plan to publish a monthly periodical. Farley recalls:

We shall never forget our throb of pleasure when first we saw The Lowell Offering in a tangible form, with its bright yellow cover; nor our flutterings of delight as we perused its pages. True – we had seen or heard the articles before; but they seemed so much better in print. They appeared, to us, as good as any body’s writings. They sounded as if by people who never worked at all. The din and clatter of the mills had not confused the brains of the writers, and no cotton fuzz had obscured the brightness of their ideas… (The Lowell Offering, November 1842: shelfmark P.P.6242)

The Lowell Offering was funded through subscription and undoubtedly proved more successful than its contributors could ever have anticipated. In time, however, it was criticised both by mill-owners, who resented the way in which the women reflected (both directly and indirectly) upon life in the mills, as well as by reformers who believed it should take a far tougher stand against factory conditions. In 1845 it was discontinued, but two years later, Farley started The New England Offering – ‘Written by Females Who Are or Have Been Factory Operatives’ – which ran until 1850.

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The New England Offering, 1849; shelfmark P.P.6242

For nearly a decade, the Lowell and New England Offerings gave these women a singular creative outlet; for readers today, they provide a unique insight into the women’s inner and professional lives during a period of rapid industrialisation and social change.

References: The Lowell Offering, Lowell. Mass., 1840-45. Shelfmark: P.P.6242; The New England Offering. Lowell, Mass., 1847-1850. Shelfmark: P.P.6242

24 February 2017

First Ladies, Fashion, Funerals

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The 89th Academy Awards are almost upon us, and Natalie Portman has received a nomination in the best actress category for her portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the film Jackie (2016, Pablo Larrain).  An unflinching portrayal of the first lady in the traumatic days following the assassination of her husband, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jackie asks what it means to be a woman in a public position of power.  Given the office’s lack of definition, this is an especially pertinent question for a first lady who has to learn to balance the role’s often unsolicited obligations and public exposure, and to negotiate the distinction between her own personal and political identity and that of her husband.[1]

In Jackie we are shown how Bouvier Kennedy reshaped the role to her interests, taking on responsibility for the preservation and restoration of the White House as a historic building, and introducing cultural activities into the Presidential calendar. 

Designing Camelot

James A. Abbott and Eleaine M. Rice, Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998. [YC.2001.b.760]

While these are now considered to be standard responsibilities of the office, she was on the receiving end of contemporary criticism as some considered these activities to be a misuse of public funds.  However, Bouvier Kennedy was by no means the only first lady to interpret the role in this light.  Indeed, one of the most popular first ladies in American history, Dolley Payne Todd Madison, was appreciated precisely because she infused the role with non-partisan nationalist sentiment at a precarious moment in the young nation’s history – the War of 1812.

As official host for receptions in Jefferson’s White House during her husband’s tenure as Secretary of State, Dolley Madison assumed the position with substantial prior experience and a higher public figure than her predecessors and many of her successors.  Such was her popularity and profile that James Madison’s political opponents complained that they had to “run against both the Madisons.”[2]  Once her husband assumed the Presidential office, together with White House architect Benjamin Latrobe, Dolley took on the project of decorating and furnishing the bare building to a standard designed to impress foreign dignitaries.  Believing her role to be one of public service to her husband’s citizenry, she mastered the ceremonial and social aspects of the position.  She placed substantial weight on fashion, and dressed in a manner that demonstrated a keen understanding that her public presentation would help her to forge an independent identity and, at official occasions, also reflect positively on the nation. 

Gowns of 1st Ladies 1

The Editors of American Heritage Magazine and the 1969 Inaugural Book Committee, The Inaugural Story 1789 – 1969. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1969.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Dolley Madison organised the first inauguration ball.  Additionally, she expanded activities in the White House to include a weekly formal banquet, and a regular informal gathering at which political colleagues with opposing views were able to meet and converse socially outside the restrictions of their office.  Much praised for her diplomatic manner, social grace, and non-interference in political matters, by the time of their departure from the position, she was widely referred to as ‘Queen Dolley’.

The esteem in which she was held, and the political influence she had, is perhaps most visible post-mortem.  Under the refrain “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” the notice of her death published in The Daily National Intelligencer reveal quite clearly how traditional feminine values were aligned to the virtues of nationalism: “she continued until within a few weeks to grace society with her presence, and lend it those charms with which she adorned the circles of the highest, the wisest, and best, during the bright career of her illustrious husband.  Wherever she appeared, every one became conscious of the presence of the spirit of benignity and gentleness, united to all the attributes of feminine loveliness.”[3]  Much like for President Kennedy, her funeral was attended by political and Military and Navy officials including the President and the Cabinet, and included a “very large and imposing” funeral procession through Washington to the Congress Cemetery.[4]  Dolley Madison’s funeral remained the only instance of a woman’s funeral being treated as a state occasion until Rosa Parks’ lying in honor ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in 2005.

The parallels with Bouvier Kennedy’s approach to the office are clear and, given the latter's keen sense of history, occasion, and public duty it is conceivable that she drew on Madison’s legacy although perhaps not consciously.  At no point were these underlying tenets more visible than in the four days following the assassination of her husband, and particularly at his state funeral.

In the presence of Lincoln

United Press International, Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1964. [YA.1990.b7099]

A Catholic who had experienced personal loss and with a respect for the healing power of ritual, a journalist by training, a fashion icon, and instilled with a rich appreciation for the arts, Bouvier Kennedy had a heightened awareness of how the performative and visual aspects of the state funeral ceremonies would be received.  Drawing on these strengths, she challenged military protocol, political will and the Kennedy family in order to achieve her vision for her husband’s final rites.  By marshalling the collective manpower of her husband's political allies to carry out her instructions, and with whom she had forged loyal and useful political relationships, she assumed her position as iconic mourner-in-chief for the nation.

Last Salute

Diagram 58: Main funeral procession, St. Matthew's Cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery.  B.C. Mosmman and M.W. Stark, The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, 1921 – 1969. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1991. [A.S.573/59]

Of course, the category of 'widow' has a similarly weighted set of gendered expectations around social decorum, and carries inflections of motherhood.  In this respect, and as cultural critic David M. Lubin has pointed out, Bouvier Kennedy had a 'neoclassical aura' at the funeral. [5]  Larrain captures and explores these connections in the most interesting scene in Jackie: on a mixture of tranquilisers and alcohol the clearly traumatised widow Kennedy wanders through the now desolate rooms of the White House she redesigned, alternating between her many ballgowns to the soundtrack of ‘Camelot.’  It is a powerful anti-montage that deconstructs the foundations upon which the former First Lady built her identity.  In doing so, Jackie examines the constraints of femininity and inter-dependent subjectivity that are imposed on first ladies and more broadly women in public positions of political power, and enquires what this means for our understanding of American nationalism.

Jackie leaving White House

Jacqueline, Caroline, and John Kennedy Jr. leave the White House for the final time. United Press International, Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1964. [YA.1990.b7099]

 

Fran Fuentes

 

[1] Such was the uncertainty over the role of early presidential spouses that there wasn’t an accompanying title.  Early presidential spouses were occasionally referred to as ‘Presidentress’ and the now commonly used ‘First Lady’ did not have wide usage until Charles Nirdlinger’s play The First Lady in the Land popularised it in 1914.

[2] Dorothy Schneider and Carl J. Schneider, First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary 3rd Edition, p.vi. New York: Facts on File, 2010.  p.28.  [YC.2011.a.1553]

[3] Daily National Intelligencer, July 14, 1849. [NEWS12419]  Also, The Dolley Madison Project http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/madison/exhibit/widowhood/img/art1.html

[4] Daily National Intelligencer, July 17, 1849.  [NEWS12419] Also, The Dolley Madison Project http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/madison/exhibit/widowhood/img/art3.html  

[5] David M. Lubin, Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images.  Berkeley, London: University of California Press, 2003.  p.256. [YC.2005.a.5008]

15 February 2017

The Tale of Josefa

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Hannah Kohler is one of this year’s Eccles British Library Writer’s Award winners. She is researching her novel, Catspaw, which follows two women during the California Gold Rush. In researching female criminals and vigilante justice in California, she came across the tale of Josefa.

Josefa Segovia—also known as Juanita and Josefa Loaiza—was the first and only woman to be hanged in California. A Mexican woman living in the mining town of Downieville, she was accused of murdering Frederick Cannon, a miner, on 5 July 1841, and was summarily hanged from a bridge over the Yuba River.

Hanging of the Mexican Woman

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Contemporary accounts are conflicting, but suggest Cannon entered Josefa’s house on 4 July, possibly assaulting her.  The following day, Josefa and José Loaiza, with whom she lived, confronted Cannon. Cannon called Josefa a whore; she challenged him to insult her inside her own home; he followed her inside, whereupon Josefa fatally stabbed him. An impromptu judge and jury were assembled, but the man defending Josefa was rolled down the hill in a barrel. Within hours, Josefa was executed.

The story first appeared in the Daily Alta California four days later. Referring to Josefa only as ‘the Spanish woman’, it noted her extreme anger, stating that when Cannon came to her door to ‘apologize,’ she met him with a ‘large bowie knife, which she instantly drove into his heart’. Subsequent accounts called her by the generic Mexican name ‘Juanita’; most dwelled on her beauty; many implied she was a prostitute. Underlying these narratives was an assumption of Josefa’s culpability, implicitly or explicitly linked to her ethnicity and sexuality. In his memoir, Hunting for Gold (San Francisco, 1893; shelfmark X.809/2834), William Downie lamented the incident in a chapter named ‘Lynching a Beauty’, calling it ‘one of those blots that stained the early history of California’.

Lynching a Beauty

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Josefa’s treatment – both her lynching and the way in which her identity and version of events were obscured – reflects the oppression of and violence towards Mexicans in mid-nineteenth-century America. However, in recent years, Chicano scholarship has sought to restore Josefa’s identity and reputation. In 1976, Martha Cotera demonstrated that Josefa’s last name was Segovia. Further scholarship contested the notion that she was a prostitute, and established that she was likely married to Loaiza, who appears to have filed a claim in 1868 against the United States for the murder of his wife (he lost).  The remaining details of Josefa’s experience are likely lost to history. She is consigned to Gold Rush lore, and on websites dedicated to the Old West, she has become a ghost story, her specter drifting along the Yuba River, haunting the old gold country.

Gold Region of California

 C. D. Gibbes, A New Map of the Gold Region of California. Stockton, CA. & New York, 1851. (Shelfmark: Maps 71865 (3)) 

Hannah Kohler

Sources: Irene I. Blea, U.S. Chicanas and Latinas Within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women’s Conference. Westport, Conn; London: Praeger, 1997 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 98/02749); William Downie, Hunting For Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893 (Shelfmark: X.809/2834); Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 1850-1935. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006 (Shelfmark: Document Supply m06/42195); F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1996 (Shelfmark: YA.1997.b.3535); Maythee Rojas, 'Re-Membering Josefa: Reading the Mexican Female Body in California Gold Rush Chronicles', Women’s Studies Quarterly, 35: 1/2  The Sexual Body (Spring/Summer 2007) pp. 126-148 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 9343.705700); Kerry Segrave, Lynchings of Women in the United States, The Recorded Cases, 1851-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010 (Shelfmark: YC.2011.a.9418).

Eccles British Library Writer’s Award: For more information, please see www.bl.uk/ecclescentre

27 January 2017

Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America

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As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.

From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina.  Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown.  However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.

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Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp

 

Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America.  The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States.  A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

Image_2

Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp

 

The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3

Image_3

Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp

 

Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.

Image_4

Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp

 

Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.

Image_5

Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”

 

Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

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Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

28 October 2016

American Pamphlets 1920-1945: Call for academic partners

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The British Library is currently looking for academic partners for our AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme to work on a project which will focus on the Library’s collection of American political pamphlets published between 1920 and 1945. The application deadline is 25 November 2016.

AHRC CDPs provide funding for PhD research drawing on our collections, resources and expertise that is co-supervised by the Library and a selected academic partner at a UK university or Higher Education Institute (HEI).

Pamphlets2

The project will draw on the Library’s extensive holdings of American political pamphlets to study and contextualise the writing, printing, distribution and dissemination of pamphlets in the years preceding and during the Second World War.

The Library’s collection of American pamphlets from the interwar period contains publications by different anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and pacifist societies. These include the Socialist Party of America, the Young People’s Socialist League, the American League Against War and Fascism, the Jewish People's Committee, the War Resisters League, the World Peace Foundation, as well as anti-imperialist societies such as the United Aid for Peoples of African Descent, among many others. The researcher will also benefit from access to the extensive collection of US political pamphlets at the Marx Memorial Library, who is a partner in the project. 

Please find more information on how to apply here, and do not hesitate to email us at Americas@bl.uk with any questions.