FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to add a new chapbook to the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. The History of the House That Jack Built is a popular nursery rhyme told as a cumulative narrative. Starting with “This is the House that Jack built,” each verse adds on to the previous one, creating a delightfully nonsensical, rhyming story. This edition was printed in 1841 by Gustav S. Peters, a notable printer of broadsides who often catered to the German-speaking population of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and its environs. While many cheaply printed books of the time were colored by hand, if at all, Peters was one of the first printers in America to make color printing commercially viable (even if, as seen above, his colored printing blocks didn’t always register perfectly). This edition printed by Peters is one of several versions of The House That Jack Built that can be found in the Shaw Collection.
One of our long-time volunteers, Cathmar Shaw Prange, was unable to come visit this winter and we’re missing her but she did send us a blog post! Cathmar has helped us curate her father’s collection for many years.
Years ago, on one of my visits to the art world of Santa Fe, Richard Maitland greeted me in his studio as an old friend. His painting, “After the Carnival,” hung on the wall. I gasped! It struck me like a bolt of lightning, reawakening an experience I’d had as an eight-year-old and evoking the last lines of John MacKay Shaw’s “Circus Roundels.”
The poet was my father. Mother was moving us into our new home in New Jersey. So he took us across the Hudson to the circus at New York’s Madison Square Garden to keep us out of her hair.
The painting, like the poem, reflects the longing we feel when a joyous event has ended. I would like this poem even better these days had he written it in shorter lines, but I can accept his admiration for Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.
“Circus Roundels” appears on page 19 of John MacKay Shaw’s second book of poems, Zumpin’. It was published by The Friends of The Florida State University Library in 1969. “Read us zumpin’, Daddy!” we cried every night as he came in the door after work. And soon we were sitting on his lap listening, reciting and singing again.
The Friends published his first book of poems for children in 1967 titled The Things I Want.
July 28, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Helen Beatrix Potter in Kensington, London. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is best known as the author and illustrator of children’s classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. These delightful stories, set in the English countryside, were originally drawn and written as greeting cards and letters to the children of Potter’s friends. Beginning in 1900, Potter started sending her stories to publishers, but after six rejected submissions, she published the books on her own. As part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection, FSU Special Collections has one of the original Beatrix Potter books: The Tailor of Gloucester printed in London by Strangeways and Sons in 1902.
After the success of her self-published children’s books, Beatrix Potter was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co, who had originally turned down her manuscripts. In addition to the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester, FSU Special Collections has over 100 works by Beatrix Potter in our rare book collections. The Gwen P. and Allan C. Reichert Beatrix Potter Collection contains biographies of Beatrix Potter and several editions of The Peter Rabbit stories, as well as adaptation pop-up books, cookbooks, coloring books, and more. A corresponding archival collection with Beatrix Potter related toys and ephemera will also soon be available to researchers.
Happy 119th birthday to John MacKay Shaw, founder of our Childhood in Poetry book collection and bibliophile extraordinaire. To celebrate Mr. Shaw, and in our ongoing commemoration of 400 Years of Shakespeare, we present a Scope and Content Note for John Shaw’s papers in the style of title pages from the early hand-press era. Mr. Shaw would surely appreciate our gesture, as the Shaw rare book collection feature works by Shakespeare along with many, many other authors.
After the successful transport and unloading of the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection, I began the process of creating an inventory of all the books in the collection — an excel spreadsheet that is currently at 300 entries and steadily growing. This spreadsheet will serve not only as a record of all the books received in the donation but also as a place to keep track of all the categorizations, ephemera, and notes that came with the collection.
For each book, I am recording the title, author, illustrator, publisher, date of publication, and category/subject, as well as any notes about articles, book reviews, and author/illustrator signatures included in the books. Newspaper clippings and publisher’s press releases laid in need to be removed in order to prevent acidic inks and papers from causing damage to the books, but making notes of where everything came from on the spreadsheet will allow us to go back and link books and archival materials where they are relevant to understanding the collection.
The real, searchable, catalog entries for each book will be created by our Cataloging and Description Department in the next stage of the accessioning journey. The inventory spreadsheet is informal in that it does not use any of the standard languages that our catalogers use to improve information accessibility, but it will be important to us in understanding and thus promoting the collection to potential researchers.
While spreadsheet creation and data entry may not seem like the most thrilling line of work, going through this collection book by book has been a lot of fun. The real challenge is not stopping to read each book along the way. Some of the highlights I have come across so far include works by well-known illustrators like Patricia Polacco, Victoria Chess, Molly Bang, Trina Schart Hyman, and James Marshall. Many of these works are signed, often with delightful little drawings, like the one by James Marshall pictured above. There are also many different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in the collection – classic versions, modern retellings, foreign language editions, and even highly abstract interpretations like the French edition (shown above left) illustrated by Warja Lavater. The same story is told each time – but the way the stories are written, illustrated, and published offer telling clues about the cultures and times in which they were produced.
One of the most common questions I get from undergraduate students during instruction sessions is some variation of “How do materials end up in Special Collections?” There are many answers to this question, of course, but one of the most important ways we receive materials is through donations. With our rare book collections, we are particularly fortunate when collectors decide to donate their personal collections. Book collectors often spend a lifetime amassing carefully curated collections that reflect deep personal interests and expertise. This is certainly the case with FSU Special Collections & Archives’ newest rare book collection: The Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.
Marsha Gontarski (Ph.D, FSU, 1993) has a background in Education with a research focus on visual literacy in children’s literature. Her children’s literature collection contains over 1,000 titles, ranging from classic fairy-tales to contemporary pieces featuring modern art. The wide variety of authors, illustrators, styles, sizes, shapes, and languages in the collection will be of interest to those studying Education, Literature, Illustration, History of Text Technologies, and Book Arts – not to mention those who want to feel nostalgic about their favorite childhood books! Every member of our staff who has seen the collection coming out of bins and being put on shelves has found something that strikes a cord – “I remember that book!” – which is surely a testament to the lasting impression left by our earliest memories of reading.
After a couple of trips to the Gontarski’s residence, Special Collections’ staff transported the books in about twenty bins, which were then unloaded in our stacks. The next step in the process will be to create an inventory of the donation before they are sent to cataloging and given records and call numbers. Since the books were donated with notes from the collector about significant illustrators, authors, and groupings of texts, it will be important for us to transfer these notes to the collection inventory and preserve information that could be useful to future researchers. In the next post in this series, I will share with you the progress being made in the accession process as well as a few highlights from the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.