Friday, December 21, 2018

For Remembrance

Title page of For Remembrance book
One hundred years ago this Christmas, families all over Europe were finally experiencing a time of peace after several long years of war. The armistice that had ended World War I was not yet even two months old; with it came an opportunity for reflection and grief as the loss of loved ones was doubtless made sharper by the advent of the holiday season.

In England, a literary journal titled The Bookman published an essay in its 1917 Christmas edition that listed the numerous English poets who had died in the conflict. The essay proved popular enough that, a short while later, the publishing company of Hodder and Stoughton issued a longer version in book form, entitled For Remembrance and complete with photographs of the deceased. The author and editor, A. St. John Adcock, provided a short commentary on each soldier-poet interspersed with quotations from that author's work.

Photograph of Rupert Brooke by Sherrill SchellThe first image the reader encounters, facing the title page, is a portrait of the poet Rupert Brooke by Sherrill Schell in 1913. The year after the image was taken, Brooke would enlist in the Royal Navy and, tragically, die of sepsis from an insect bite while on a ship in the Aegean Sea. The image of Brooke was likely chosen not only because he was very photogenic, but because his poem "The Soldier" – "If I should die, think only this of me:/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is for ever England" – was one of the most famous war poems of all time, and has become a symbol of the war’s early patriotic fervor.
Initial page of For Remembrance that lists Rupert Brooke as one of the poets who died in the war.This feeling of national pride and energy would famously dissipate over the course of the war as British losses mounted. Poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon became the new voice of a generation that had grown disenchanted with the jingoism of its political leaders. One would be at a loss to find signs of this sea change in public opinion within the page of Adcock's book, however. He acknowledges that "there is too much gone that can never return" and states that "the soul of a nation lives in its literature." Curious, then, that there is no mention of prominent dissenting voices such as Owen, Sassoon, and others. Perhaps the wounds were too fresh for a nation still grieving its losses (and critical voices were too controversial for the publisher).

To see For Remembrance, come to Special Collections and ask for Brooke 1.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

On Counterfeiting

Title page to Heath's Infallible Counterfeit Detector at Sight book.
Laban Heath was a New England engraver who, by the mid 1860s, had discovered a way to stay relevant. As an engraver, he had been involved in the engraving of paper currency which, at the time, was issued only by state banks. This changed with the National Currency Act of 1863, which established a new national currency. Heath did not agree with the supposition that this new money would be "entirely secure from counterfeiting and [that]…no knowledge of detecting [would] be necessary… ."

Prior to the Act, the only way of protection came via bank note reporters, publications in which the various banks described counterfeiting they had identified in their own notes. Heath felt that a new system could also profit from a new way of looking at counterfeit money. In 1864, he published his first guide, Heath’s Infallible Counterfeit Detector At Sight – The Only Infallible Method of Detecting Counterfeit, Spurious, and Altered Bank-Notes, and Applicable to All Banks in the United States and Canada, As Now in Circulation, Or That May Be Issued.

In the introduction, Heath states that his guide would provide the same means of detecting used by "Engravers, Brokers, Cashiers and other experts." He then sets out to describe the various ways in which different sections of a bill can or cannot be "successfully Imitated":
The general principle upon which the detection of counterfeit is based is that all parts of genuine notes are engraved by machinery – with some exceptions hereafter named – while all parts of counterfeit notes are engraved by hand, with exceptions hereafter given.
Heath also includes "full illustrations" based on genuine engravings he was able to procure "with great difficulty, owing to the misuse which might be made of them by counterfeiters." This difficulty, he admits, has unfortunately raised the cost of his guide. There are indeed several plates with a variety of examples in this little booklet, including an example of a counterfeit bill, the plate of which was obtained "at great trouble" from counterfeiters "and taken from them at the time of their arrest."
In addition to the illustrations, Heath gives many examples of how counterfeiters proceeded to alter bank notes. One example is “piecing,” in which a counterfeit note is cut up into pieces that are then pasted onto genuine ones.

An example of a valid bank noteAn example of a counterfeit bank note.

Laban continued to update his guide over the years, with new editions in 1866, 1867 and 1870. He also patented a simple microscope and telescope in 1866 and an Improved Adjustable Compound Microscope in 1877.

Heath’s Counterfeit Detector At Sight can be found in ML-86, The Papers of the Wheeler Family of Orford, NH.