A Snake in the Library, or, the Mysterious Whereabouts of the Villa Warden, a Former United States Consulate in the French Riviera

Imagine that you’re a newly-minted American diplomat in 1954, posted to the official U.S. consular residence in the coastal city of Nice, France, where you’ve been sent to brush up on your French language skills. The consulate, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, is located in an elegant old building known as the Villa Warden, after the former owner of the property, Standard Oil executive John B. Warden.  Your envious colleagues back in Washington tease more »

Honolulu Calling: A Tapa Barkcloth Binding for a 1930 Phone Book from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries recently acquired a telephone book. Big deal, you say? Ah, but this is a telephone directory for the territory of Hawaii, issued for the winter of 1930. For that reason alone, it’s fun to browse through, to see the old advertisements and daydream about living in the gorgeous Hawaiian Islands, back in the days when the entire list of businesses and households in the territory which owned telephones could be recorded in one slim volume. But this isn’t just any old phone book. This particular copy belonged to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, which opened in February 1927 on the spectacular Waikiki beachfront. Known as “the Pink Palace of the Pacific,” the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was one of the earliest luxury resorts established in this tropical paradise. The stylish décor featured at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, inspired partly by the native crafts of the South Sea Islanders, exerted a lasting influence upon tourists from the mainland, who came to associate the good life in Hawaii more »

Captivated by Science, Mathematics, and Imagination: An 18th Century Lady’s Commonplace Book

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website. Mary Smith's "Commonplace book concerning science and mathematics"   A couple of years ago, I saw a production of Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia. One of the central characters is Thomasina Coverly, a precocious girl in early 19th century England whose student notebooks were bursting with ideas on how to unlock the greatest mysteries of science and mathematics. I was reminded of the voracious intellect and efforts of Stoppard's Thomasina recently in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology when I came across an 18th century vellum-bound volume filled with more than 300 pages of carefully handwritten notes on a wide variety of scientific themes. Arranged in two parts, the volume includes a detailed table of contents indexed with a set more »

Poor Kitty Popcorn, or The Soldier’s Pet

The life of a soldier can be lonely, alternating tedium with terror, and the affection of a pet can offer much solace and amusement, creating a bond that can continue long after deployment is over (for instance, there have been recent stories in the news about some U.S. Marines who have adopted pet cats in Afghanistan, detailing their efforts to bring these beloved animals back home with them). The notion of a pet cat accustomed to riding along perched on a soldier’s knapsack hardly seems so fanciful.

American Indian Language Bibles in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries has been collecting texts written in the languages of various Native American peoples since the late 19th century, when the United States Congress established the Bureau of Ethnology (later known as BAE, or the Bureau of American Ethnology) at the Smithsonian.

The Russell E. Train Africana Collection: An Archival Safari

On October 22, 2010, the Libraries participated in the Smithsonian Archives Fair to celebrate American Archives Month. Special Collections Cataloger, Diane Shaw, delivered a presentation about the archival materials of The Russell E. Train Africana Collection.

Cat Contest Follow-up

Is it possible to have too many cat images in one's blog? Not when they're as wonderful as this one! The frantic feline (left) is an illustration of "Phoenix's Feline Attachment," an ingenious contraption designed to harness the energy of one's pet cat to power a sewing machine. This technological innovation is the brainchild of George Horatio Derby (1823-1861), writing under the pen name John Phoenix, in his book of humorous stories and illustrations, The Squibob Papers (New York: Carleton, publisher, 1865; call number PS1535 .S6X 1865 AAPGRB American Art/Portrait Gallery library). For just $90.00 and change (which works out to over $1200.00 in today's money), an enterprising person could build this cat-powered sewing machine, assuming he or she could find a cat that didn't immediately get bored with chasing the mouse dangled in front of its nose. Obviously, it's not meant to be a REAL invention. After all, no self-respecting cat would put up with this sort of treatment (notice that the budget for the machine doesn't include bandages, more »

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