Brown University Library Special Collections

Archive for the ‘New Acquisitions’ Category

Gifts, donations and purchases from recent months

Fleurs des Tranchées = Trench Flowers

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on March 12, 2013

It arrived on my desk one morning.  A handmade scrapbook labeled Correspondances Militaires, 1916-1917 covered in paper the color of the French military uniform – bleu horizon.  Each letter was carefully pasted along one edge to a thin strip of paper.  Each letter was written to Emile Toulouse from his brothers Eugène and Jean and a smattering of friends and cousins.  They all served France during World War I.  Emile served as a firefighter in Paris.  Eugène served in the infantry.  Jean served with the artillery.

The most important function of war time letters is simply to assure family and friends that one is still in this world.  Eugène writes at the beginning of almost every letter and card exactly the same sentence:  “Je suis toujours en bonne santé et désire que ma lettre te trouve de même. = I am still in good health and hope that my letter finds you the same.”  The fact that Eugène wrote that for over 2.5 years (March 1915 until November 1917) while serving in the trenches in France is remarkable.  In the optimistic early days of 1915, he gathered flowers from each of the trenches.

Flowers collected in the trenches by Eugene Toulouse, 1915

By December 29, 1916, Eugène’s spirits were flagging and for good reason.  Below is a translated excerpt from that letter.

“ . . . From time to time here at this Compagnie de Dépôt we are almost as brutally treated as you are, and twice I was almost thrown in jail without any reason. You better believe it’s harsh to be treated that way especially because it’s possible that in one week we will have our pants on fire and our feet freeze. I am beginning to believe that we will never beat them although you know my morale was pretty high.  I can’t wait for the escape.”

[Translation by Dominique Coulombe, Senior Scholarly Resources Librarian]

To read that letter and all the others in this diminutive but interesting scrapbook visit the John Hay Library and request the Toulouse Family Correspondence (Ms.2012.017).

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Money, Money, Money!

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on January 14, 2013

A collection of Rhode Island currency and fiscal documents was recently donated by Cynthia Frost (Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at Brown) in memory of her father Michael Freezy Frost, who collected the materials during his lifetime.  The Frost Currency collection (Ms.2012.031) contains examples of 26 pieces of currency, of varying types, issued in Rhode Island between 1775 to 1929, one bank note issued in Delaware in 1759, and 5 documents related to the fiscal history of 18th century Rhode Island.

Front of Rhode Island 20 Dollar bill, 1780

Back of Rhode Island 20 Dollar bill, 1780

This 20 Dollar bill was issued in 1780 and is a promissory note from the State of Rhode Island.  which promised to pay the bearer the principal plus 5% interest every year in 6 years.  The note was then traded like money for goods and services. Whoever possessed the note at the end of the 6-year term collected the principal and all the interest.  Notice the offset text on the left side of the bill, the original signatures and the unique handwritten number, all of which were meant to frustrate counterfeiters.  The back adds offset text in red and a woodcut image which would be very difficult to reproduce exactly.

Rhode Island 6 Pence bill, 1786

The State of Rhode Island also issued money.  The Six Pence bill was issued in 1786 and is printed on only one side.  No interest accrues with this bill, it is solely meant as a medium of exchange.


Front of Roger Williams National Bank of Providence 10 Dollar bill, 1865

Back of Roger Williams National Bank of Providence 10 Dollar bill, 1865

Banks got into the business of printing money in the 1840s and they chose the images and style of the bills.  The image of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity with his kite was clearly so well known by 1865 that it needed no caption on this 10 Dollar bill.  The back of the bill shows DeSoto discovering the Mississippi.  Perhaps the choice of that image was meant to create solidarity within the United States again since that area of the country had so recently been prevented from seceding.

To learn more about this collection visit the John Hay Library.

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A Women’s Studies Pioneer – Elaine Ryan Hedges

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on October 10, 2012

Elaine Hedges

The Elaine Hedges papers (Ms.2011.007) are now available for research

Elaine Hedges is best known for her ground-breaking scholarship on the significance of American women and sewing — particularly in reference to their quiltmaking in the nineteenth century.  Her detailed and innovative study of quilts as encoded texts brought to the fore important historical information about women and their social, political and artistic endeavors that had previously been overlooked by mainstream scholars.  Hedges was also a leader in the area of Women’s Studies through the foundation of the Women’s Studies program at Towson State University in Maryland in 1972.  Throughout her career, she was a fierce advocate for curriculum reform and of a more inclusive canon of American literature so as to incorporate works by women, ethnic minorities, and the gay and lesbian community.

The collection thoroughly documents all aspects of Hedges long and productive career as one of the most influential feminist scholars of the 20th century.  Her scholarship and teaching were wide-ranging and reflect the history of the women’s movement and the creation of women’s studies programs.


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Time Capsule

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 18, 2012

A recent blog post titled Baptist Churches announced the arrival of the records for 4 Baptist Churches in Rhode Island.  This week brings a glimpse into the life of one of them – the Roger Williams Baptist Church of Providence, RI.

How often have you walked past the cornerstone of a building and wished you could look inside the time capsule housed within?  What do people put in them?  Do the contents survive the journey through time?

The members of the Roger Williams Baptist Church built a chapel in 1889 to accommodate their growing community.  On September 14, 1889 they celebrated the new building with a service to lay the new cornerstone.  Underneath the stone they enclosed a time capsule in a copper box.  When the membership swelled to over 400 members they built an addition to the church in 1906. The time capsule was moved and placed underneath the new cornerstone.  The photo below shows the stone suspended on a pulley.  The man standing in the middle is Manton Metcalf holding the copper box in his left hand.

Laying the cornerstone for the new addition on the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI, June 2, 1906.

David Dobson opening the copper time capsule box, October 1, 2011.

Starting in the 1950s, the membership of the church steadily declined until weekly attendance dwindling to less than twenty in 2010.  The remaining members voted to close the church with the last service on November 20, 2011.  But before they closed their doors they opened the cornerstone and retrieved the time capsule.

What they found inside were mementos from 1889 documenting the church, Rhode Island, and the world including: a list of all the members of the church, constitution and by-laws of the church, publications relating to the Baptist Church in RI, 2 newspapers, money, and 35 small flags from most of the countries in the world at the time.

Contents of the 1889 time capsule of the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI.

The most curious object is a small American flag with 36 stars.  There were 38 states in September, 1889 when the time capsule was created (4 more states were admitted in November 1889) and the inscription reads “God Bless the Commonwealth of Rhode Island, Loyalty to Ceasar.”  The flag probably dates to 1865-1867, the only years during which there were 36 states.  Rhode Island is generally not called a Commonwealth. Only 4 states use that term in their official names: Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  And why is someone, who doesn’t know how to spell Caesar, pledging their loyalty to him?  The reason it was included may simply be because it was the smallest flag available and the inscription was written years prior by someone else.  It is nonetheless a curious item.

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Baptist Churches

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 11, 2012

The records for 4 Baptist churches have been donated to the John Hay Library during the past year to augment the Baptist Collection.

1.  Shawomet Baptist Church, Warwick, RI, 1842-2011

2.  Meshanticut Baptist Church, Cranston, RI, 1899-2011

3.  Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI, 1867-2011

4.  Niantic Baptist Church, Westerly, RI, 1851-2012

The records of these churches provide documentation related to the debate over the vitality of religious organizations in the United States.  All four churches served as vital centers of worship for their communities for 100-160 years.  They all survived the tumult of the economic, social and political upheavals and changing neighborhood demographics of the past 160+ years.  The reason for their closure may be linked to a larger societal trend or may simply be the natural life cycle of an organization.  They are now available for use by researchers interested in that topic or many others involving the role of religion in the life of a community.

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The Itinerant Actor

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 5, 2012

Edwin Scribner, c.1908

The papers of playwright Edwin Scribner (Ms.2012.005) arrived recently to complement a large collection of his published plays in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays.

Edwin Scribner was born in Logansport, IN in 1879.  On 27 July 1898, he quit his job in the Master Mechanics office of the Pan Handle Railroad in Logansport and, as he states in the first volume of his diary, “From that date the theater has been my interest and occupation in life.” He was an itinerant actor and a playwright, writing at least 50 plays.  He died in Waterville, ME in 1964.

His papers contain 18 typescripts for his unpublished plays which complement the 33 published plays already owned by Brown.  Of particular interest is the diary he kept  from 1898-1921 which provides an intimate view into the life of a traveling theater troupe actor.  It was not meant as a place to bear his soul but rather as a record of his work.  And work he did.  Every page documents the unrelenting travel schedule of an itinerant actor.

Diary of Edwin Scribner, Oct 4-Nov 3, 1900

In the fall of 1900, from September 19 to December 15 (88 days) he visited 77 cities and gave 79 performances.  The tour ended on December 15 this way: “Before meeting our leading man John Fry Palmer, drunk picked a fight with Griffith – which got him a good licking and landed him in jail.  Closed with John Griffith Co. – they beat me out of my last weeks salary.”  Two days later Edwin was working for another theater troupe in yet another city and so it went for the next 20 years.

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The Shakespearian Advertiser

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on March 19, 2012

The charming Shakespearian Advertiser printing blocks collection (Ms.2011.044) has recently been cataloged.  The Shakespearian Advertiser was published by Harlen P. Boyce in Providence, RI in 1871.  The preface to the booklet states its purpose: “It combines information as to where our wants of all kinds may be supplied in the best manner, and at the fairest prices; with illustrations of a higher class of humor than is usually presented to the public by the so called comic papers.”  The “higher class of humor” was composed of comic illustrations based upon quotes from plays by William Shakespeare.  The illustrations were interspersed between advertisements for Rhode Island and Massachusetts businesses.  The publishers hoped the comic illustrations would entice people to look through the entire booklet and pass it along to friends.  A clever promotional tool of the 19th century still employed today.  To see the finding aid go to the RIAMCO website.

Wood block #18, The Shakespearian Advertiser printing blocks collection (Ms.2011.044), 1871.

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