Sometimes the treatment performed on an item is minimal but the item being treated is fascinating! This was the case with this recently acquired letter from State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt to the prominent ornithologist Elliott Coues. The letter, dated April 21, 1882, outlines Roosevelt’s interest in shrews and his desire to donate his collection of shrew skins to the Smithsonian. Continue reading
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, which contains several thousand manuscripts, photographs, original artwork and prints, posters, maps, ephemera, and man-made and natural artifacts relating to exploration, big game hunting, wildlife, and travel in Africa dating from 1663 to the late 1990s. Formerly part of the private collection of Judge Russell E. Train of Washington, D.C., these materials were acquired by SIL in 2004, together with over 1500 printed books, which are all housed together in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.
The Russell E. Train Collection covers an amazing diversity of topics, with items by and about such notable people as President Theodore Roosevelt; the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone; journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley; taxidermist Carl E. Akeley; naturalist Edmund Heller; traveler Richard Francis Burton; author Ernest Hemingway; artist Sir John Everett Millais; and documentary filmmakers Osa and Martin Johnson; among others. A number of the items are also related to the history of the Smithsonian, including Theodore Roosevelt's 1909-1910 African expedition, where some of the animals now in the Natural History Museum's collections were acquired. The materials in the Russell E. Train Collection have greatly enhanced the Libraries' ability to support research in African art and natural history.
A webcast of all of the Smithsonian Archives Fair presentations is available on the Archives Month website; the Russell Train Collection presentation begins at 0:28:00. The slides from the talk are included here:
Theodore Roosevelt—African game trails Scrapbook. More photos of the album can be viewed on the Libraries' Flickr.
In honor of Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday 152 years ago today, we’re happy to announce that a scrapbook documenting his public career, made on the pages of his book African game trails (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910) has just been sent for conservation treatment.
The book itself is Roosevelt’s own description of the Smithsonian/Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909-1910, which resulted in thousands of specimens for the National Museum of Natural History. This copy was presented by Roosevelt in 1910 to his secretary at the Outlook Company, Stuart Hill, who then turned it into a scrapbook containing more than 2,000 pasted-in items relating to Roosevelt’s public career.
This unique copy of the book came to us in the Russell E. Train Africana Collection, and as you can see, it’s stuffed to the gills with newspaper clippings, photographs, drawings, letters, invitations, and miscellaneous ephemera from the early 1900s, attached to the pages of the text.
Because the glues are failing and the paper of the inserted materials is acidic and brittle, any handling causes damage, and the volume has been off-limits to readers since we acquired it. But now we have special funding from the Smithsonian’s Collection Care and Preservation Fund to give it a full conservation treatment. This involves photographing the volume in its current state to document every single page and all of the inserts; labeling each scrap as the book is taken apart; removing glues, de-acidifying the paper of the inserts, and cleaning the text pages; mounting all of the inserts on acid-free leaves; and then putting the printed text and the insert leaves back together in 3 more-reasonably sized volumes. It is estimated that this pains-taking process will take the better part of a year.
When it has been preserved in this way researchers will be able to read all of the inserted materials and form a complete picture of the book and its contents. The book and the Train Africana Collection are available for consultation in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, one of the Libraries' rare-book rooms, located in the National Museum of Natural History.
—Leslie K. Overstreet, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books
Today is Teddy Bear Day. Teddy bears are such a normal part of our childhood that it's surprising to realize that they have only been "standard" since the last century:
The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was "Teddy". The name originated from an incident on a bear-hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902 . . . A suite of Roosevelt's attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a white handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter. Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and the bear cub and was inspired to create a new toy. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read "Teddy's bear," after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name.—Wikipedia
Of course the Smithsonian has one of the original "Teddy's bears" on display. But Teddy's bear is hardly the only bear that children cuddle up to, both figuratively and literally. Or I should say, literary-ly. Bears figure prominently in nursery rhymes (Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear), fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Snow White and Rose Red and of course favorite children's character Winnie the Pooh. It's hard to argue with a bear who always wants to be with you and is always reassuring:
“If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever”
“If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"—A.A. Milne
Words to live (and cuddle) by.
National Museum Of American History: Teddy Bear
Inside Smithsonian Research: A literary connection on the nursery wall
Museum of Childhood: Bears in Stories
President Theodore Roosevelt, who held office from September 14, 1901 to March 4, 1909, agreed in 1906 to accept Charles Freer's art collection into the Smithsonian Institution on behalf of the United States for the future Freer Gallery of Art. Although the Freer collection was chiefly Asian art, also included were works by a select handful of prominent American artists, among them Abbott Thayer. Thayer, known for his angelic portraits of beautiful women and landscapes of New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock, was a avid naturalist who experimented and theorized about the concealing role of animal coloration. Thayer's son Gerald summarized these theories and discoveries in the 1909 book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom.
Roosevelt was an outdoorsman as well and based on his experiences strongly disputed Thayer's theories. In 1911 he wrote Revealing and Concealing Coloration in Birds and Mammals seeking to refute them. Concerning the coloration of the zebra, Roosevelt wrote:
"The zebra has also, very absurdly, been taken as an example of 'concealing coloration'…as a matter of fact it is not concealing, it is highly advertising, when close at hand…the zebra is purely a beast of the open plains; it never seeks to conceal itself, but trusts always to seeing its foes…Mr. Thayer's ingenious theories of how all the various stripings on a zebra obliterate it are without the smallest foundation in fact. So far as the coloration of the zebra has any effect at all, as regards beast of prey, it is an advertising, not a concealing effect."
Abbott Thayer in the 1912 Concealing Coloration, an Answer to Theodore Roosevelt made this rebuttal:
"Now as to Roosevelt's scoff at the idea that a zebra's white stripes reduce his distinguishability: The accompanying photographs are a total answer.
It only remains to show that this is the view a lion gets when he is near enough to be dangerous; and it is this danger-or-difficulty-moment that costumes in general prove to fit…at a reedy drinking-place such a costume as the zebra's throws all possible difficulties in the lion's way; since so perfect a counterfeit of sky and reeds must cause the lion the greatest proportion of failures to notice the zebra when he is still, or to keep his outline in sight as he bounds away."
These three books are all held in the collections of the Freer-Sackler Library. More information about Abbott Thayer can be found online in the April 1999 Smithsonian Magazine article, A Painter of Angels Became the Father of Camouflage by Richard Meryman, as well as Libraries of the Freer-Sackler Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum.—Mike Smith