Friday, December 3, 2010

French Signatures

A portrait of a man next to a block of text and a signature.You may have a signed photo from your favorite celebrity, but can you match a collection of autographs from notable French rulers and other "illustrious personages?" Starting with a Francis I document from 1529 and ending with a nineteenth-century letter from Napoleon III, this collection includes signatures from Catherine de Medici, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, the "sun king" Louis XIV, Marie Antionette, and Napoleon Bonaparte among others.

Though most of the documents themselves are fairly commonplace and written by a secretary, this collection does provide small snapshots of the events of the times and a glimpse into everyday affairs.  A letter signed by Colbert from October 1658 discusses the king's edict to create a sovereign council to administer justice.  A document signed by Comtesse du Barry (official mistress of Louis XV) is an order for payment to a M. Pectern.

An engraved portrait of Louis XVI with his wife and child, above a separate picture of figures gathered around a guillotine.
Preceding each signed document  is an engraved portrait of the notable signatory, including a somewhat macabre illustration of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Dauphin juxtaposed against a view of a guillotine.

Ask for Codex 003094 to see this item.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Around the World in Search of the Antarctic Continent

The cover for a manuscript, featuring handwritten text beginning with "Erskine's panorama lecture."When Charles Wilkes' U.S. Exploring Expedition returned from its search for the Antarctic continent in 1842, it inspired the creation of an 11,000 square foot panoramic mural that toured the country. This manuscript was the script for seaman Charles Erskine's lecture given while the panorama was scrolled in front of an audience at the Roxbury Mechanic's Institute in Roxbury, Massachusetts. It attests to the public appetite for exploration stories and the 19th-century love of panoramas as popular entertainment.

After its useful life on the touring circuit was over, the panorama was sold in 1892 to the Revere Beach Scenic Railway and installed in one of their tunnels.  It has since disappeared. The only surviving remnant is this manuscript description. Among the geographic subjects discussed are: Estroza Pass, Isle of Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, Andes, St. Lorenzo Island, Tongataboo, Antarctic Continent, Henry's Island, and Cooks Bay.  The manuscript also contains extracts from press notices of Erskine's appearance.

A page of handwriting with the header "Antarctic Continent."
To see it, ask for Stef Manuscript 257.