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5 posts from July 2014

11 July 2014

Remembering Babe Ruth

  Babe ruth
New York, 1928; BL shelfmark VOC/1928/KENDIS

One hundred years ago today, on 11 July 1914, George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth, Jr made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. During the next five years – which included three World Series championships – Ruth transitioned from pitcher to powerful slugging outfielder, and in September 1919 he broke the MLB single-season home run record. Yet three months later, in a move now regarded as one of the worst transfer deals in history, he was sold to the New York Yankees. 

On 1 May 1920, just weeks into the new season, Ruth hit a ball out of the Yankees’ home stadium, a feat only previously achieved by Joe Jackson. His second home run came the very next day. By the end of May he had broken the record for home runs in one month. In June he broke this again, and on 4 September he both tied and then broke the organized baseball record for home runs in a season (previously held by a player in the minor Western league). In his fifteen years with the Yankees, Ruth established himself as one of the greatest players of all time, with records including: career home runs (714); slugging percentage (.690), which remained unbroken until 2001; and runs batted in (RBIs) (2,213). 

Although not noted for its baseball holdings, the British Library holds a significant collection of early twentieth century sheet music extolling the virtues of America’s national game. Several songs focus specifically on Ruth, including Jas Kendis’s ‘Joosta Like Babe-a-da Ruth’ (New York, 1928; BL shelfmark VOC/1928/KENDIS) which tells of a protagonist so good at baseball that, just like Ruth: ‘He smack-a da baseball up-a so high / He smack ’em in June, it’s come down in July’. Another evocative item, published the year after Ruth retired from MLB, is Babe Ruth’s Baseball Advice (Chicago, 1936; BL shelfmark 7915.w.6), which must surely have been one of the most-desired Christmas and birthday presents for young boys across the United States.

Babe ruth2
Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1936, BL shelfmark 7915.w.6

The Library’s recent acquisition of the Mike Ross Baseball Collection – which includes several hundred books and programmes and a run of the UK Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) Examiner – significantly boosts our baseball holdings and future blogs will keep readers posted on its accessibility. 


06 July 2014

Remembering American success in the 1986 Tour de France

As cycling fever descends on the UK (and the British Library!) we are marking American cycling success: on this day (6 July) in 1986 Davis Phinney became the first American cyclist to win a stage of the Tour de France.  His success was replicated just 10 days later when, on 16 July, Greg LeMond became the second American rider to win a stage.  LeMond then went on to become the first non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France (which he did again in 1989 and 1990).  He is currently the only American to officially win the Tour—following Floyd Landis' and Lance Armstrong's disqualifications for doping.


Greg LeMond starts the 21st and final stage of the 1989 Tour de France, photograph Benjamin Werner - - CC BY 2.0

With Le Grand Départ currently visiting Yorkshire and due in London tomorrow, the British Library has been showcasing its organisational cycling prowess: several intrepid members of staff, including Team Americas’ own Matthew Shaw, and a British Library Reader cycled the 200 miles from the British Library’s main site at St Pancras in London, to Boston Spa in Yorkshire in 48 hours on 3–4 July.  The Library is also highlighting Collection items related to cycling with a free display on the history of cycling and the Tour de France currently open at Boston Spa.

The display includes accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’ and more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza.  Also featured is Samuel Abt’s 1990 biography of Greg LeMond, LeMond: the Incredible Comeback.

The display also includes typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.


A paperback of Tim Moore’s 2001 best-seller French Revolutions, alongside an original draft by the author and a hand-drawn map of the route he took (following the 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France), on display at the British Library at Boston Spa. Photograph by the British Library, CC-BY-NC.

The Tour de France display at the British Library at Boston Spa is free to visit until the end of August during Reading Room opening hours (9.00-4.30, Mon-Fri).

For more on the 1986 Tour de France, see Richard Moore, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France [2011] (London, 2012). YK.2013.a.3441.


03 July 2014

Tour de Lead Graffiti: 23 posters in 23 days


A display to celebrate the Tour de France’s fourth visit to the United Kingdom for the Grand Départ 2014

Since 2011, in what they call an act of ‘endurance letterpress’, the American printers and designers Jill Cypher and Ray Nichols from the design and print house, Lead Graffiti, have produced a typographical response to each day of the three-week-long Tour de France – one of the most demanding and most beautiful sporting events in the world.

And we have three sets of these posters: images from the 2011 edition can be seen in Boston Spa, along with one or two other American items, while posters from 2012 and 2013 can be see in the Front Hall of the British Library, on the walls next to the Readers' Lounge (floor 3) and the Staff Lounge (floor 2) until November.  Jill and Ray are blogging about it on the Lead Graffiti site.


Tour de Lead Graffiti, clamshell edition from 2013.

Meanwhile, a short story published to celebrate the Yorkshire start of the Tour, Stoller's Départ, should be available in the Shop. All being well, a copy should soon be deposited at Boston Spa, after we arrive with it following our ride there in our own 'Tour de BL' (#TdeBL).

- Matthew Shaw


02 July 2014

Amistad Revolt

Today marks the 175th anniversary of the Amistad Revolt.

On 2 July 1839, the Amistad, a Spanish-owned schooner carrying 49 adults and 4 children recently captured in West Africa, was sailing off the Cuban coast. Early in the morning, having picked his fellow captives’ locks, Joseph Cinqué led a mutiny that resulted in the death of the ship’s captain and, two years later, to an unprecedented verdict by the U.S. Supreme Court granting the captives their freedom.  

Yet, even their journey to the United States was remarkable. Having gained control of the ship, the mutineers demanded that José Ruiz and Petro Montes, who had charted the Amistad, return them to Africa. For weeks, Ruiz and Montes deceived them by sailing into the sun in the daytime, and then west and north at night, as they desperately sought rescue by British anti-slave trade patrol vessels.

Finally, in late August – with its passengers emaciated and a corpse rotting on deck – the Amistad was captured off Long Island and the mutineers were jailed. News of the incident quickly spread. Ruiz and Montes initiated a legal case demanding the return of their property whilst the plight of the captives, who were jailed pending trial for murder on the high seas, was taken up by abolitionists.

Habeas corpus

Public Domain Mark

The African Captives: Trial of the Prisoners of the Amistad… (New York, 1839; BL shelfmark 1132.h.39.(1))

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The captives’ court proceedings began in mid-September with the abolitionists seeking a writ of habeas corpus, which they hoped would establish them as human beings rather than property. This was denied: The African Captives: Trial of the Prisoners of the Amistad… (New York, 1839; BL shelfmark 1132.h.39.(1)) Eighteen months later, the case – which even involved U.S. President Van Buren attempting to return them to Cuba as slaves – entered the Supreme Court.

John Quincy Adams

Public Domain Mark

Frontispiece of Argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court of the United States… (New York, 1841. BL shelfmark 6615.b.1)

Defending the captives, former U.S. President John Quincy Adams challenged the Court to grant their liberty on the basis of natural rights doctrines found in the Declaration of Independence: ‘I know of no other law that reaches the case of my clients, but the law of Nature and of Nature’s God on which our fathers placed our own national existence.’ Argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court of the United States…(New York, 1841; BL shelfmark 6615.b.1). On 9 March 1841, the Supreme Court concurred; the mutineers were freed and six months later they returned to Africa.

For two years, the Amistad ‘incident’ enthralled the American public and the extensive contemporary newspaper coverage can be found in Early American Newspapers Series 1. Even today, the Amistad’s grip on the imagination of artists and writers as diverse as Robert Hayden (New York; London: 1985; BL shelfmark YC.1986.a.5379) and Steven Spielberg continues.

Acknowledgement and further reading: Howard Jones, Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987; BL shelfmark YH.1988.b.369).

– Jean Petrovic

01 July 2014

Lakeland Meetings: the Crafts and Harriet Martineau

Wm Brown

Above: a portrait of William Wells Brown from his book, Narrative of William W. Brown [BL shelmark: 10880.a.6]

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These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

[In last week's post Ellie Bird wrote about her research on anti-slavery narratives and 'The North Star' anti-slavery newspaper. This week Ellie shows some of the other stories that have come out of her research]

Looking through the holdings of Frederick Douglass’s paper in 1851 (then entitled The North Star) I find something that intrigues me; a letter to Douglass from former slave William Wells Brown (NS, April 17 1851, p3). In 1851, by this time a bestselling author of his own 1847 slave narrative, Brown toured Britain with fugitive slaves Ellen and William Craft and his letter is written from the Lake District house of Harriet Martineau. Martineau, whose anti-slavery sentiments are evident in her writing, supported the Crafts during their stay in Britain. I am struck by William Wells Brown’s soothing description of the isolated setting of the Lake District,

"A cold ride of about fifty miles brought us to the foot of Lake Windermere, a beautiful sheet of water, surrounded by mountains that seemed to vie with each other which should approach nearest the sky."

Windermere (Martineau)

Above: a view of Windermere from Martineau's, Guide to Windermere [BL shelfmark: 10351.b.28]

Part travelogue his letter describes the rich literary inheritance of the Lake  District, name-dropping Wordsworth and Coleridge in addition to the titles of many of Martineau’s texts, demonstrating Brown’s well-read mind as much as the famous literature of that region. At the close of his letter a throwaway line reads,

"The evening was spent in talking about the United States and William Craft had to go through the narrative of his escape from slavery."

A reminder that as well as slave narratives being a best-selling genre of their day and the celebrity-like status of many fugitive slaves who toured the United States, Britain and Canada, telling slave narratives could also be a private, domestic event, a form of evening entertainment and spoken spontaneously as well as read.

Ellen Craft

Above: a portrait of Ellen Craft from, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom [BL shelfmark: 10880.a.39]

Here that fleeting moment is captured in a letter made public and printed in a newspaper. If we read into Brown’s use of ‘had’ that William ‘had’ to tell his story it suggests eagerness on Martineau’s part to hear the narrative as part of a wider conversation on America, and a need for William to tell his story to smooth relations with his host.

Registered British library readers can currently access Douglass’s newspaper remotely via remote e-resources; Readex: Early American Newspapers, series 1.

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