The Wondrous Winter Wonderland that was 16th-Century Sweden

An entry into this magical season can be gained through the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, first published in Rome in 1555. It is a work greatly valued by Smithsonian curators and researchers and other scholars, since the author – a true Renaissance man – wrote down his geographical, anthropological and naturalistic observations of a land unknown to much of Europe of the time. In more »

Salad Days (and Months) in Rare Books

My salad days, when I was green in judgement This common, if well-worn, phrase first appeared in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra of 1606. At the end of Act One of the play, recalling a youthful affair with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra refers to a time of innocence, silliness or indiscretions. Since May is National Salad Month, let us celebrate the greens by looking at the work of another Englishman, John Evelyn (1620-1706). His more »

Did a Cat Help Decorate this Binding?

  The style of book binding above with mottled leather is called Cat’s Paw, appearing to have had little inked feline foot pads walk over its covers. But no, this design is actually made with various types of stains and colors, applied in the binder’s workshop without the aid of a willing cat accomplice. The Internet was leaping a couple of years ago with accounts of evidence of a no-doubt confident and more »

Charting the Chesapeake from a Civil War Map

Familiar with its waters, I was delighted when an early chart of the Chesapeake Bay, entitled Map of part of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware of 1861, appeared in my cataloging queue. But then who doesn’t like looking at old maps? Getting absorbed in what is fanciful, long-gone or merely changed, and finding remnants of the well-known from a long association with the landscape. And reading any map on paper doesn’t happen every more »

Increasing accessibility with the “MARC cocktail”

This post was written by Lesley Parilla, database manager and cataloger for the Field Book Project. What is a library to do when it has fabulous materials to share with users, but making library records for each item requires significantly more time than a typical collection? This was the challenge of the Russell E. Train Africana collection. It contained materials with both broad public appeal and significant historical value, however content and more »

Celebrate the Rhubarb

Rhubarb, that harbinger of spring for many, is honored in the United States on January 23rd with National Rhubarb Day. Having let National Rhubarb Vodka Day (first Saturday in December) pass without note, I wanted to bake a pie in preparation. Thanks to the generosity of a neighbor and his bountiful garden last spring and summer, I had plenty set by. Rhubarb does freeze well. Inspired by the scholars transcribing, as well more »

Amaryllis for Christmas

All I want for Christmas (really) is an amaryllis in full bloom. It is lovely to see poinsettias, beautiful products of the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse in Suitland, Maryland, placed about the museums, but there is something special about the amaryllis as a seasonal plant. Poinsettias have become too traditional, too expected, too (well) durable.

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