Friday, December 6, 2019

Audubon’s Mysterious Aviary: Investigating some Truly 'Odd Birds'

John James Audubon holding his most trusted field 'instrument' - a black-powder rifle. Painting: George P. A. Healy; Museum of Science, BostonEver heard of a Carbonated Warbler? No, we’re not talking about a fizzy bird-themed cocktail nor a bird with a sweet tooth for your favorite seltzer. I’m speaking about an unassuming yellow songbird painted by famed artist and ornithologist John James Audubon in his voluminous work The Birds of America. Still doesn’t ring a bell? What about Cuvier’s Kinglet, Bartram’s Vireo, the Townsend Finch (later called Townsend’s Bunting), the Small-headed Flycatcher or the Blue Mountain Warbler? Even if you are an avid bird enthusiast, there is a high chance you’ve never encountered these species on your bird-watching checklists. Don’t be alarmed however. There is a reason these species are elusive… it’s because they’ve likely never existed.

Of the 435 bird species drawn and painted by Audubon (1785-1851) for the original edition of his monumental work, The Birds of America (printed between 1827-1838), the six species listed above continue to puzzle ornithologists. Although renowned for the general precision and scientific accuracy with which Audubon painted America’s bird species - even among modern standards - the six 'mystery birds’ as they are collectively called, have proven difficult to positively identify, and no identical specimens have been confirmed since Audubon drew them. In the 181 years since Audubon finished his work, his mystery birds continue to stir debates over whether they might be color mutations, surviving members of species that soon became extinct, or even rare interspecies hybrids.

Before we delve into this feathery mystery any further, it’s important to understand the context within which Audubon collected over 500 specimens and produced his four hundred and thirty-five watercolor plates. After unsuccessfully managing his father’s plantation in Pennsylvania and finding his passion in sketching wildlife, Audubon devoted himself to his ‘great idea’ beginning in 1826 - a plan to publish an anatomically-accurate book of all bird species within the “United States and its territories” drawn life-size. The herculean project eventually preoccupied Audubon for over 12 years, taking him on a journey of several thousand miles by boat, foot, and horse in pursuit of as many birds as he could find.

In order to depict each species as realistically as possible, Audubon had to view his artistic specimens in person. After all, Audubon couldn’t rely upon photographs. French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had only produced the first partially successful photo in 1816, a mere 10 years before Audubon embarked upon his journey to observe, shoot, and paint birds in their “natural realms.” It wouldn’t be for another decade and a half after he published The Birds of America, in the mid-1850s, until the first semi-portable cameras came into use, meaning Audubon had to use real specimens as models for his paintings whether he wanted to or not.

Although it was common practice at the time for illustrators to work from taxidermied or formalin- preserved specimens, Audubon found this method unsatisfactory. He was frustrated by the challenge of accurately depicting colors from lifeless preserved corpses, especially since the eyes, bills, legs, and bare skin can rapidly change color after a bird’s death. After trial and error in the field, Audubon devised a quick method of rigging up the dead corpses of birds he or others had shot using a system of bent wires inserted directly into the bird’s body. This method better-preserved their vibrant colors allowing him to paint birds in more ‘lifelike’ positions, sometimes among natural backdrops.

Audubon included a fictionalized depiction of himself collecting a dead bird specimen in the background of his original Golden Eagle watercolor portrait. The image was mysteriously removed in later editions of his work.
Audubon’s new method of illustration, which publishers likened to ‘drawing directly from nature’, bolstered the success of his publications. Whether true or not, while Audubon sought paying subscribers to help fund his expeditions and book printing, advertisers commonly implied that Audubon’s work was somehow superior in it’s accuracy and scientific depiction of the natural world because of the process by which he painted his subjects. Using carefully crafted language, advertisers alluded that Audubon painted directly from life, glossing over the fact that his models were still dead (just dead more recently).

In Rauner’s copy of the 1826 prospectus (a printed advertisement and description of Audubon’s upcoming book, The Birds of America) for instance, W. Swainson notes, “To those who have not seen any portion of the Author’s splendid Collection of original Drawings, it may be proper to explain that their superiority consists in every specimen being of the full size of life, portrayed with a degree of accuracy…(Audubon’s) ornithological narratives...are as valuable to the scientific world as they are delightful to the general reader...There is a freshness about these essays, which can only be compared to the animated biographies of Wilson. Both these men contemplated Nature as she really is...they sought her in her sanctuaries. The shore, the mountain, and the forest were alternately their study, and there they drank the pure stream of knowledge at its fountain-head. The observations of such men are the cornerstones of every attempt to discover the natural system.” This lively advertising language, as well as the inscription written on Audubon’s illustrated plates, ‘Drawn from Nature’, are therefore misleading, especially to contemporary readers familiar with the practice of photographic and drawing from live animals or film.

Audubon did go to great lengths to draw freshly-killed birds, but time constraints during publication (after all, he agreed to release a certain number of plates each year to appease his paying subscribers) meant this was not always possible. As time passed, he increasingly used preserved specimens collected by others. Audubon’s occasional reliance upon preserved specimens is cited as one explanation why two of the mystery bird species-  the “Small Headed Flycatcher” and “Cuvier’s Kinglet” - are not found today. Both birds resemble known species but with unfamiliar color patterns. Some scholars suggest that the plumage of older specimens could have become worn or discolored during transport, leading to later misidentification by Audubon.

Aside from facing constraints on his time and ability to paint recently-killed specimens, a lack of robust scientific knowledge surrounding American wildlife in the early 1800s may also explain why several strange species appear in The Birds of America. Audubon was collecting, describing, and painting birds at a time when European Americans didn’t know the breadth of American birdlife, nor the breadth of wildlife in general across the continent for that matter. For example, just 20 years prior to the launch of Audubon’s ‘great idea’, then U.S. President Thomas Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for a live mammoth during their journey west, all while writing in a column for the American Philosophical Society’s Bone Committee: “It may be asked, why I insert the mammoth, as if it still existed? I ask in return, why I should omit it, as if it did not exist?…[the north and west] still remain in their aboriginal state, unexplored and undisturbed by us, or by others for us. He may as well exist there now, as he did formerly where we find his bones.” The fact that academics were still discussing the possibility of giant, wooly, 10,000-pound extinct elephants roaming the American West, waiting to be discovered, seems laughable today but paints a vibrant picture of the scientific excitement that characterized discovery at the time.

To be fair, in the early 1800s the discovery of new species was not only likely, but still extremely commonplace in the New World. In fact, over the course of completing The Birds of America Audubon discovered 25 new species and 12 new subspecies (not including the unidentifiable birds mentioned previously). For Audubon, every unusual morning chorus could signal a newly-discovered songbird, every ‘unexplored’ mountain range and woodland thicket could host species of hawks, owls, and herons no European ornithologist had yet seen or documented. The possibility of discovery must have been exhilarating, however the lack of prior literature to cross-check Audubon’s findings would also prove maddening by today’s standards. As Audubon Magazine journalist Nicholas Lund writes, “(Audubon) shot heaps of birds…and compatriots exploring far-flung regions of the continent brought him heaps more. Among the messes of dead birds he had to sort through were probably weird-looking juveniles, birds with plumage anomalies, or even the occasional hybrid.” Considering the sheer number of specimens Audubon examined and the relative unfamiliarity with color variations of North American birds at the time (birds vary in coloration according to their age, diet, sex, region of the country, and even time of the year) it’s no wonder that Audubon didn’t get everything right.

Now, back to the six mystery birds that grace the pages of our copy of The Birds of America… perhaps they are just cases of mistaken plumage - like two other avian oddities contained within Audubon’s work. Take for instance the case of the mighty “Washington Eagle” which Audubon declared to be a new species after acquiring a specimen along the banks of the Mississippi around 1818. After sighting five of these massive birds, Audubon was elated when he discovered what he describes as “a magnificent” new eagle in the first volume of his companion book, Ornithological Biography. According to his measurements the bird had a whopping wingspan of 10 feet 2 inches, making it larger than any known eagle found anywhere around the globe (by comparison, the largest known eagle species in the U.S. today, the Golden Eagle, tops out with a 7.2-foot wingspan). Audubon named the species “The Bird of Washington” given that it was, in his opinion “indisputably the noblest bird of its genus that has yet been discovered” (pg. 61, Vol. 1). Adding to the patriotic fervor of his new ‘discovery’ Audubon exclaimed “If America has reason to be proud of her Washington, so has she to be proud of her Great Eagle” (pg. 61, Vol. 1). Today, scholars don’t share Audubon’s enthusiasm; ornithologists commonly agree Washington’s Eagle was a juvenile Bald Eagle that was either unusually large or whose proportions were exaggerated for effect. Aside from the striking resemblance of Audubon’s illustration to a young Bald Eagle, Audubon oddly acknowledges in his Biography that the bird closely resembled other commonly-known species nesting in the vicinity, writing “passing over the affinity of (the) bird to the young of the White-Headed Eagle (Bald Eagle)... I shall institute a comparison between it and the true Sea Eagle, which bears so strong a resemblance to the Bird of Washington, that by a superficial observer they might be confounded.” Despite Audubon’s best attempts to convince his readers that “the Bird of Washington stands forth as the champion of America ...and henceforth not to be confounded with any of its rivals or relatives” today’s bird experts (a far cry from the ‘superficial observers’ Audubon denounces) agree that the species hatched from the imagination of a naturalist rather than a unique egg. The birds’ larger-than-normal size combined with its juvenile coloration likely explains why it was misclassified in Audubon’s menagerie.

Audubon is also known to have mischategorized males and females of the same species as two distinct ones. Males and females of many bird species, particularly songbirds, exhibit striking differences in their plumage and overall appearance (a phenomenon known as being ‘highly sexual dimorphic’). A good example here in the northeastern U.S. is the Northern Cardinal; males of the species are a striking crimson red with black face masks for most of the year, whereas the female remains a dull tannish-brown. A result of sexual selection, sexual dimorphism must have proven particularly puzzling to ornithologists like Audubon who were observing new species in their natural habitats for the first time, especially when males and females of some species are often not observed together except during short breeding seasons. At a time when naturalists relied primarily upon morphological differences to tell one bird species from another, the only way Audubon could ground truth whether birds were indeed the same species was to observe them breeding and nesting together or to have heard reputable accounts of such activities occurring. More times than not, this luxury was not afforded to Audubon. A good example of this confusion is evidenced by Audubon’s “Selby’s Flycatcher.” The beautiful yellow songbird, painted in Plate 9 of his book, is actually a female Hooded Warbler. It appears he classified the specimen separately from males of the species due to the lack of black face rings, having never observed males and females nesting together.

Unfortunately, the origins of Audubon’s six mystery birds require more complex explanations than simple mix-ups of juvenile/adult and female/male morphological traits. This brings us to the third most-commonly-suggested explanation. Perhaps Audubon’s mystery birds were on the brink of extinction as Audubon collected specimens and have since disappeared. There certainly are, sadly, several now-extinct species in Audubon’s illustrations including Bachman’s Warbler, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Labrador Duck, Great Auk, Eskimo Curlew, Carolina Parakeet, and the famous Passenger Pigeon. A handful of scientists have entertained the possibility that some already-range-restricted species could have been wiped out by the early 1800s before conservationists took any notice. However, most of Audubon’s six mystery birds were observed only once or twice by Audubon himself, and none of them left behind any fossil records or specimens, unlike the five species Audubon painted that are known to have gone extinct. This makes it highly unlikely that our six mystery birds are simply extinct species. Instead, we must look to a combination of factors or alternative explanations altogether (i.e. hybrids or birds with genetic mutations?) in our ongoing attempts to classify these feathered friends.

Without further adieu, here’s a chronological rundown of Audubon’s six mystery birds, along with our best explanations as to their true identities: Audubon’s first mystery bird - “Cuvier’s Kinglet” (also called Cuvier's Regulus; Regulus cuvierii) - seems to be a unique case of misidentifying a well-known species. Although birdwatchers would adore another charming kinglet species, Cuvier’s Kinglet hasn’t been documented since Audubon (supposedly) shot a male of “this pretty and rare” bird in Pennsylvania and named it after “Baron Cuvier... at present unrivalled in the knowledge of general Zoology.” Audubon noted that the specimen was very similar to Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, admitting he “supposed it to be one of its relatives” until he picked the bird’s body up from the ground (pg. 288, Vol 1, Ornithilogical Biography). Unlike these well-studied species however, Audubon’s bird sports a black forehead and a striking red cap alongside the familiar dark head stripes characteristic of Golden-crowned Kinglets. Nineteen years after collecting this odd bird, Audubon wrote in his Ornithological Biography that he “never (saw) another” and had not heard of anyone else who had (pg. 288). This didn’t stop Audubon (nor other ornithologists) from tirelessly searching for other examples of the supposed species. In 1840, Audubon wrote to Spencer Fullerton Baird (famed natural historian and first curator at the Smithsonian Institution) regarding a “singular variety” of Ruby-Crowned Kinglet the then 17-year-old had shot, asking “Have you compared the Regulus with the description of Regulus cuvieri? Could you not send me your bird to look at?” Although the specimen was never sent, Baird continued to believe Cuvier’s Kinglet existed nearly 20 years later (seven years after Audubon’s death); describing in his 1858 report On the Birds of the Railroad Surveys: “I have introduced the diagnosis of (Cuvier’s Kinglet) from Audubon for the sake of calling attention to it and of completing the account of the genus.”

Cuvier's Kinglet. Plate 55. Illustration: John James Audubon.
The verdict: Although rumors of Cuvier’s Kinglet sightings circulated well into the 1870s, the American Ornithological Society declared that Audubon’s kinglet is likely just a Golden-Crowned Kinglet with “aberrant plumage.” After all, the coloration is not all that different from a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, save for the bright red (as opposed to yellow-orange) headcrest and an additional black stripe extending over the top of the bird’s beak. It is possible that the specimen Audubon shot had a genetic condition occasionally observed in many bird species known as melanism; which results in unusual darkening of body tissues caused by the excessive production of dark melanin pigments. Since melanin produces the blacks, browns, and reddish-browns in a bird’s body, this could explain why the head crests and stripes are an unfamiliar - and darker- color than your typical Golden-Crowned Kinglet.

Audubon’s second befuddling species - the “Carbonated Swamp Warbler” (Sylvia carbonata)- appears on Plate 60 in our second volume of The Birds of America. Named for its dark streaking and head cap - not, unfortunately, because it lives in a bubbly bog - Audubon painted his Carbonated Warbler from two males he shot on his father’s plantation in Henderson, Kentucky. Audubon expressed uncertainty about the familiar-yet-not-so-familiar coloration of the two birds, noting on page 308 of his Biography (Vol. 1) that he was “of the opinion that they were each young birds of the preceding year, and not in full plumage, as they had no part of their dress seemingly complete, excepting the head. Not having met with any other individuals of the species, I am at this moment unable to say anything more about them.” Indeed, Audubon’s notes about S. carbonata are comparatively sparse amid his almost superfluous descriptions of other warbler species.Carbonated Warblers. Plate 60. Illustration: John James Audubon.

The verdict: Although the black cap, wing bars, and general streaking pattern match a commonly-observed species called the Blackpoll Warbler, Blackpoll Warblers are black and white, rather than bright yellow as in Audubon’s illustration. Blackpolls do exhibit surprising color variations including yellow-tinged wings and backs, meaning Audubon’s S. carbonata could be a rare case of yellow mutation. A more likely explanation some contend - including famed field guide author David Sibley (illustrator of Sibley’s Field Guides) - is that Audubon mis-represented a bird he was drawing from memory. As Sibley noted in a lively blog post from 2008, “We know that Audubon worked on some paintings from memory at that time, and I think this painting is consistent with ‘from memory’ work. As any artist knows, working from memory will get some details correct and others very wrong. It's impossible to perfectly recreate a memory as a drawing, because memories tend to be fragmentary (drawings must be complete).”

Interestingly, as if to preemptively quell any doubts that he hadn’t painted Plate 60 from life, Audubon adds that his Carbonated Warblers “were drawn, like all the other birds which I have represented, immediately after being killed” (pg. 308, Vol. I). Although Audubon asserted his works were “Drawn from Nature”, we know that in 1812 (one year after he supposedly shot the Carbonated Warblers)  rats destroyed almost 200 of his stored paintings, causing him to “nearly put a stop to (his) researches in ornithology” and forcing him to repaint several of his illustrations from memory. Audubon’s original Cerulean Warbler watercolor was lost to the nibbling rats, so the Carbonated Warbler could have been destroyed too, forcing Audubon to repaint the scene without a specimen at hand for reference. As Sibley and other ornithologist point out, this may explain the appearance of several anatomical oddities in the illustration, including several strange feather groups which are arranged incorrectly and misshapen. As Sibley remarks, perhaps he was looking at actual specimens, “But... the fact that this painting is one of his less detailed efforts, with errors and omissions of a sort that I would expect from drawing without a model, leaves open the possibility that he was working from a faulty memory.” Plate 60 also lacks one of Audubon’s usual artistic flourishes - intricately painted tails which he usually fanned in artful positions. As Sibley observes, Audubon “seemed to be fascinated by the shapes and patterns of tails”, however the tails of his Carbonated Warblers are frankly “vague and boring” when compared to his other drawings. All of these clues have led him and other artists to conclude that S. carbonata is merely a result of a jumbled memory. Still, others including famed American ornithologist Elliot Coues (1842-1899) assert that the bird was a unique hybrid between a Cape May and Blackpoll Warbler. Unless one of these birds is discovered, it seems unlikely that we’ll never know the true story.

The mystery behind our next species - Audubon’s “Townsend’s Bunting” or “Townsend’s Finch” (Emberiza townsendii) - recently concluded with a satisfactory explanation, all thanks to a photograph captured in 2014 by a trigger-happy birder. Audubon writes in the first volume of his Ornithological Biography, “Of this species only a single specimen has yet been found, which was lent to me by Dr. (John) Townsend… Nothing is known of its habits” (90). The bird was built like a sparrow with a conical bill, but had a white throat and “eyebrow” in addition to a gray chest unlike any known sparrow species. Audubon said nothing else about the circumstances surrounding the bird’s collection in 1833 near Philadelphia, PA, aside from his anatomical description which asserts that “the throat and fore-neck are white..the middle part of the breast and abdomen are also greyish-white” (pg. 184, Vol. II, Ornithological Biography).

Townsend's Bunting (pictured bottom left). Plate 400. Illustration: John James Audubon.The verdict: Interestingly, unlike Audubon’s other five unknown species, the specimen he painted still exists. After the stuffed bird sat collecting dust in the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. for over 160 years, Ornithologist Kenneth Parkes studied the specimen and consulted with Townsend’s notes; concluding that is was an aberrant-plumaged Dickcissel. As Parkes noted in his 1985 paper, “the specimen probably represents a Dickcissel that lacked the normal carotenoid (yellow) pigments in its plumage … such pigment deficiencies, resulting from mutations or failures in development, are common in some groups of birds” (pg. 90, Natural History 4/85). Parkes hypothesized that Audubon stumbled upon a once-in-a-lifetime specimen with the opposite ‘problem’ as his Cuvier’s Kinglet. Although it could produce melanin at normal levels, it was either unable to process or store carotenoids (pigments which typically come from berries or other foods in the bird’s diet) in its feathers. Despite Parkes’ tentative conclusion (the specimen was, after all, in rough shape) the birding world again erupted with excitement when images of a supposed Townsend’s Bunting captured in Ontario helped confirm his diagnosis in 2014. After the internet buzz subsided and the experts examined the photographs, the consensus was… an aberrant-plumaged Dickcissel! Although we’re now certain Townsend’s Bunting was never a distinct species, as only the second-known example of this plumage in recorded history, it was a surprising discovery to say the least.

Audubon’s final three mystery species - “Bartram’s Vireo”, the “Blue Mountain Warbler”, and the “Small-Headed Flycatcher” appear together in one odd illustration (Plate 434) contained in the fourth volume of his work. First there’s Bartram’s Vireo, which Audubon declared a new species not because of its appearance (its a spitting image of the common Red-Eyed Vireo), but rather because of its unfamiliar foraging and territorial behavior. According to Audubon’s biography, though the species is “often confounded with, or mistaken for, the Red-Eyed Vireo” Bartram's Vireo was “remarkable” in that “it rarely if ever ascends even moderately tall trees” and exhibits “disregard for the approach of man, or indeed of any other intruder” (pg. 297, Vol. V).

Plate 434, depicting the Small-Headed Flycatcher (second from top, right), Blue Mountain Warbler (second from top, left), and Bartram's Vireo (second from bottom, left). Illustration: John James Audubon.The verdict: We frankly aren’t convinced that the behaviors Audubon viewed were “remarkable” in any way. If anything, Bartram’s was a particularly bold Red-eyed Vireo that preferred to forage in the understory.

Finally, we conclude with the Blue Mountain Warbler (Sylvia montana) and Small-headed Flycatcher (Muscicapa minuta); both which perch alongside Audubon’s misidentified Red-eyed Vireo. Both ‘species’ likely owe their presence in The Birds of America to Audubon’s main rival of the 1800s, fellow ornithologist and artist Alexander Wilson. M. minuta and S. montana were first documented in Wilson’s groundbreaking work - American Ornithology - which he published in 1808. Wilson had embarked upon a mission similar to Audubon’s twenty years prior, painting as many birds as possible in his new abode after immigrating from Scotland. Although his work is considered artistically and scientifically inferior to Audubon’s The Birds of America, Wilson became the first respected authority on America’s bird species. Wilson died in 1813, but Audubon’s work was continually compared to his predecessor's ( as evidenced in the prospectus for his new book, quoted previously), which many bird enthusiasts (and hence potential subscribers to his own work) were already familiar with. To omit a species from his work that a supposed authority like Wilson had documented - whether real or not-  could have proven disastrous to Audubon’s reputation among observant readers. Hence, it is quite likely that Audubon faced pressures to include some species he himself never encountered.

Indeed, Audubon expresses frustration about how difficult it was to obtain specimens of several of his mystery species when he writes in his entry on the Blue Mountain Warbler that, “it is somewhat strange, that among the numerous species of birds that visit the United States, a few should have been met with only in single instances. The present Warbler is in this predicament, as are the Carbonated Warbler and Cuvier’s Wren… it has not been my good fortune to meet with (a Blue Mountain Warbler)” (pg. 294, Vol. V). Although Wilson claimed to have shot his warbler in Virginia’s Blue Mountains (hence the bird’s name), a combing of the region by Audubon and his colleagues yielded no birds matching its description. So where did Audubon supposedly acquire his specimen? Audubon briefly remarks that his “figure was taken from a specimen lent to me by the Council of the Zoological Society of London, and which had come from California” (pg. 295, Vol. V). As Audubon Magazine journalist Nicholas Lund humorously remarks, “It sounds to me like Audubon was jealous that Wilson found a bird he couldn’t, but claimed he had one in the same way some people claim to have a “long-distance” girlfriend.”

The verdict: It’s possible Audubon had only Wilson’s painting of the Blue Mountain Warbler to reference, and, being unable to observe the species or otherwise obtain a specimen for himself, felt compelled to paint an unknown bird only documented in Wilson’s book. Overall, this one truly is an odd bird with no conclusive explanation.

The story for the Small-headed Flycatcher is reversed. Audubon claims to have discovered the species first but did not disclose his finding at the time because as he contends “In those happy days, kind Reader, I thought not of the minute differences by which one species may be distinguished from another in words, or the necessity of comparing tarsi, toes, claws, etc..” (pg. 291, Vol. V). Audubon remarks that he first drew the species in Louisville Kentucky in “long-past days… (in) the early part of the spring of 1808” (conveniently the year before Wilson published his work!). He continues the narrative by stating “When Alexander Wilson visited me at Louisville, he found in my already large collection of drawings, a figure of the present species, which, being at the time unknown to him, he copied and afterwards published in his great work, but without acknowledging the privilege that had thus been granted to him” (pg. 291, Vol V). Audubon expresses contempt for what he considers to be plagiarism of his discovery, noting “ I have more than once regretted this” , however he assures his readers that his intentions for setting the record straight are benevolent. He claims to be sharing the story because he respects Wilson’s legacy, writing “I share this...for the sake of one to whom we are so deeply indebted (Wilson) for his elucidation of our ornithology”(pg. 291, Vol. V).  Although Audubon did visit with Wilson in 1808, it seems odd that Audubon waited until well after Wilson had died to contest Wilson’s narrative of the Small-headed Flycatcher. For comparison, Wilson claimed he’d first seen a flock of birds in New Jersey, where he shot one in an undisclosed apple orchard.

The verdict: Unfortunately, neither of these stories shed any light on just what these birds actually were, if they even existed. Both Audubon and Wilson’s descriptions connote some type of wood warbler, but the coloration doesn’t match anything described today. As Elliott Coues suggested back in 1870, the Small-headed Flycatcher likely “never existed”, but was rather a result of rivalry and misunderstanding between Wilson and Audubon.

Overall, at a time when naturalists like Audubon lacked modern tools such as gene sequencing and remote tracking to aid in distinguishing new species on the basis of reproductive isolation, it’s remarkable that more birds we recognize today were not misidentified in his monumental work. Equipped with only a looking glass that today’s birders would probably dismiss as low-quality and a single-shot gun, Audubon was able to accomplish something truly remarkable; he accurately described and painted over 400 American bird species, many for the first time. As Dr. Roberta J. M. Olson, Curator of Drawings at the New York Historical Society and an authority on Audubon’s work, remarked, “The presence of a few mystery birds in (Audubon’s) work “is a testament to the kinds of challenges that the artist-naturalist faced in his pioneering attempt to study and codify taxonomically hundreds of American birds in this pre-photographic age.” Even in the instances when his work wasn’t scientifically accurate, Audubon’s watercolors were undoubtedly memorable works of art that ignited considerable interest in American birdlife, inspired future generations of artists, and helped spur the modern age of wildlife field guides.

Although we’ve been unable to positively identify all of Audubon’s mystery birds, their presence adds to the intrigue that characterizes exploring old works of natural history like The Birds of America. These befuddling species continue to stir lively debates involving scientists and artists alike, each one serving as a window into the life and work of one of America’s most famous naturalists. Although it’s unlikely we’ll discover the true identity of all Audubon’s mystery birds, the search has furthered our understanding of known species, the motivations that drove early artists to produce monumental scientific works, and the behind-the-scenes logistical challenges that shaped Audubon’s artistic renderings. In a world where we take for granted the increasing ease with which we can fact check and cross-reference scientific discoveries, perhaps it's good that we still have some old mysteries to ponder; not just for an added challenge, but to remind us just how lucky we are to live in a world with so much technology and information at our disposal.

To see our incomplete set of Audubon's  Birds of America, come in and take a look at the permanent display in our reading room. If you'd like to turn some of the pages, just ask the reference desk staff for help.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Binge-Listening Time!

Screenshot from podcast website of episode 26 blurb
What do do with all this time now that it is break? You've got five weeks before you are due back on campus. Sleeping is definitely a priority, and there are plenty of festive holiday things to do, plus it is a good time to earn a little money for Winter term. It is also a great time also to catch up on some of the cool things you have been missing out on while you have been so busy studying and writing papers. Well, we have a treat for you: it is time to binge listen to Hindsight is 20/19.

Hindsight is 20/19 banner
At the start of the year, the Dartmouth Library released the first episode of Hindsight is 20/19, our first adventure in podcasting. We set out to create 25 episodes by using one object from each of Dartmouth's decades to tell a series of alternate histories of Dartmouth that add depth and breadth to our understanding of what it means to be a 250-year-old institution. We miscounted--if you are 250-years old, you have 26 decades to deal with, so, like magic, there are 26 episodes. We posted the last official one yesterday (but a couple of bonus episodes are coming!).

Most of them are 10-15 minutes long, with a few longer episodes. We took on some heavy topics, but we also highlighted some of our favorite lighter moments in Dartmouth's history. We think the series is pretty entertaining. It sure was fun to produce, and we hope you love listening as much as we loved making it!

Oh, and when you are done, and still hungry for more, download Tales from the Old Burying Ground: Stories Inspired by the Dartmouth College Cemetery.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Parrish Thanksgiving

Collier's cover showing homeless man with can of beans looking skyward with a smile
When Collier's needed a good holiday cover, they knew who to turn to: Maxfield Parrish. In the early 1900s Collier's was becoming the most popular of the muckraking magazines. It was required reading for millions of Americans. Along with several other prominent painters and illustrators, Parrish was a regular contributor for major holiday issues. Parrish's cover art, sometimes melancholy, usually sentimental, and ever hopeful, helped to set the mood the magazine was after. We have proofs from many of these in our Maxfield Parrish collection. Here are three covers devoted to the Thanksgiving issue. They evoke a quintessential American holiday.

Incidentally, the editor of Collier's at the time was Norman Hapgood who would later marry Elizabeth Reynolds. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood became Dartmouth's first woman faculty member in 1918!
Collier's cover showing a man and his child walking through the snow with bags of foodCollier's cover showing cartoon of pilgrim with a gun and a turkey
 To see them, ask for ML-62, Box 12.

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Is It You?"

Headshot of Maude Adams
This is a line uttered by actress Jane Seymour in the 1980 romantic drama film Somewhere in Time. In the movie, Seymour portrays the fictional character of Elise McKenna, an actress living in the early part of the 20th century who falls in love with a writer from 1971, portrayed by the late Christopher Reeves. It is a tale of star-crossed love and was based on the novel "Bid Time Return" by Richard Matheson.

Matheson based Elise's character on the actress Maude Adams who was a famous stage actress in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, Adams is best known for portraying Peter Pan on the American stage in 1905.  However, as an actress she was in demand, touring the country in plays such as The Little Minister, Quality Street, Joan of Arc, and The Legend of Leonora. She retired from the stage in 1918 and did not return until 1931, when she played in a production of The Merchant of Venice in Ohio.
Photo of Maude Adams as Peter Pan

At its release Somewhere in Time was not a critical success but has over the years become a cult movie whose followers meet once a year at the famed hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan where the movie takes place.

Matheson used many characters from Maude Adam’s life for his book, including basing Elise’s manager in the book on Charles Frohman, the man who oversaw Adam’s career. He also gave his protagonist the name of a roommate of Adams'.

We have here at Rauner a small collection of Maud Adams’ papers. The collection is particularly rich in photographs of Adams on and off the stage.

Maude Adams retired again from acting in the 1930s and became the head of the drama department at Stephens College in Missouri where she taught until 1949.

To view the collection, ask for MS-285.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dough for the Big Game

Letter from October 17, 1901Charles Sylvester was a member of Dartmouth's class of 1905 and the son of a shoe maker in Haverhill, Massachusett. Throughout his years at college, he kept up a regular correspondence with his sister and his mother, writing at least once a week, often twice.

His letters open up a view into college life not usually well documented: the day-to-day struggles of a student of modest means. The letters from his freshman year are focused on the many jobs he takes on to earn money, alongside his commentary on Dartmouth's social world. Football, of course, dominates most of the conversation. On Thursday, October 17th, 1901, he writes:
The college will be depopulated within a few days, about five hundred fellows are going to the game, probably more. Those who haven't the "dough" are borrowing and those who have are lending with an open hand. Chase is going and is going to Groveland [MA], Sunday. Don't I wish that I were. I shall not, however, borrow any money.
That Saturday, the day of the game, he reports:
Wouldn't I have liked to have seen that game. The college--what there is left of it--is crazy. They telegraphed the results up just as soon as it was ascertained.
He clearly wasn't one of the guys with the "dough."

You can read all of Sylvester's letters by asking for MS-853.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Sine of the Times (well, they are periodicals ... )

Photograph of Edward Sine as a student
On May 28th of 1993, Edward P. Sine '51 passed away at his home near Seattle, WA. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Sine had graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth and then gone on to earn an M.B.A. at Columbia University. Soon after, he became an investment analyst and never looked back, finding quite a bit of success in the field. Although Sine made his fortune in finance, he was deeply influenced by a professor of Comparative Literature during his time in Hanover. Professor Herbert Faulkner West '22 made such an impression on Sine that his former student once said that West was "the greatest teacher I have ever known. His compassion, his understanding, and, above all, his humanity, made him a giant among his fellow educators."

Title page of the first issue of Punch magazineIn February of 1993, a few months before he died, Sine wrote a letter to the college, informing them that he wanted to make a bequest in honor of Professor West. The gift he gave was a kingly one: 3,000 original watercolors and drawings by noted British illustrators and 6,000 books illustrated by them, about them, or referring to them. At the time, the gift made Dartmouth one of the best research institutions in the nation for the study of the British illustrated book. As Sine said in his letter, he was "particularly delighted that [the collection] is going to Dartmouth College, where it can remain as a permanent tribute to the memory of my friend and mentor."

A full-page illustration from Punch magazine title "Trimming a W(h)ig."Although we have relied upon the Sine collection quite often for teaching purposes, and have blogged about it on occasion, we wanted to promote a little-known sub-category of the collection, namely, Sine Serials. The Sine Serials collection consists of impressive runs of mostly 19th-century British magazines and periodical publications that contain numerous fascinating and engaging illustrations. One of those magazines, Punch, is often considered to be the quintessential British illustrated humor magazine. The first issue of Punch was published in July of 1841; the magazine remained in publication for over 160 years, with only one brief hiatus in the 1990s. Punch's name was a reference to the puppet Mr. Punch of "Punch and Judy," a traditional slapstick puppet show often associated with British culture. Among Punch's achievements is the first use of the word "cartoon" to refer to comic drawings.

To explore any of the fascinating titles in the Sine Serial collection, search the catalog using the keyword "Sine Serials" and limiting the result to Rauner Library. To look at issues of Punch in particular, ask for Sine Serials AP101 .P8.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"An Acquisition"

Sketch of Henry Turner by Henry B. Atherton, ca. 1862
On March 13, 1862, Henry B. Atherton, captain of Company "C" 4th Regiment Vermont Volunteers wrote a letter home to his wife Abbie. It was just one of many letters he had written since he had been requested by the Governor of Vermont to raise a company. He and Abbie had only been married a year and were separated when they were still newlyweds. What made this letter different from the others was that it mentioned an "acquisition":
Letter from Atherton to his wife dated March 13 1862I am writing at Colonel Veasey’s headquarters. I have made an acquisition today, viz: Henry Turner a contraband 16 years old, bright and active. He left his Secesh Master yesterday. His mother with four children and three grown women have gone to Washington. The boy will go with me wherever I go and finally, I presume to Vermont.
Henry Turner was part of an exodus of black families fleeing slavery after they discovered that the Union soldiers were across the river in Virginia. We do not know why Atherton hired Henry, nicknamed "Vort." Unions soldiers were allowed to have servants and Turner stayed with Atherton in that capacity. In his diary for the day Atherton wrote, "Take a little contraband, 15yr. old from the Provost Marshall’s for a servant with his mother’s consent. His name is Henry Turner [Vort]."

On April 16, 1862, Atherton was severely wounded at Lee’s Mills during General McClellan’s peninsular campaign and resigned on August 12, 1862. It was then that Turner came home with Atherton to Vermont. By all accounts, Turner was accepted into the family. He lived with the Athertons in Cavendish, Vermont, where Henry Atherton’s mother Roxane taught him to read and write and made him clothes.

Henry "Vort" Turner's letter to Henry Atherton
By 1864, Turner had mastered writing and he wrote a letter to Atherton appearing to ask for a wage increase of "one dollar," which Atherton agreed to pay him. That same letter also includes news written by Atherton’s brother Joseph who felt that "Vort has worked hard for the Dollar but has not made so much progress in writing as he ought to." With Henry Atherton being occupied with his legislative duties, Turner worked primarily with and for Joseph on the farm and sawmill.

When he was suitably prepared, Turner attended the Duttenville district school, the same school Henry Atherton had attended as a boy. We do not really know what became of Turner, although, in another letter he sent the family in 1879, he describes his work in Boston as a driver for "the richest man in Cambridge."

Henry B. Atherton’s correspondence is part of his papers (MS-1409), which we have recently acquired and processed.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Doing What Has to Be Done

Letter from Hopkins to Dartmouth alumni serving in the US military
This coming Monday, November the 11th, is when the United States of America celebrates Veterans Day. This federal holiday shares the date with holidays celebrated by other countries such as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Whereas those holidays traditionally mark the anniversary of the end of World War I, Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US military veterans. Dartmouth has historically seen significant participation in wars that have involved the United States, especially the world wars. In World War I, a total of 2,672 Dartmouth alumni were in uniform as well as another 700 in the Student Army Training Corps on campus. The number of Dartmouth participants in World War II was even greater; a guesstimate by the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in August of 1942 affirmed that more than 6,300 alumni would have enlisted within the year.

Here at Rauner we have an amazing collection that bears testimony to and honors the memory of military veterans who served during that war. This collection of World War II narratives contains letters, postcards, V-mail, newsletters, transcripts and newspapers clippings of personal narratives of Dartmouth men involved in World War II. The narratives, mostly in the form of letters, document the lives and activities of Dartmouth affiliated men and women in civilian life, military training and in active military duty in all theaters. Many of the narratives are short, but some provide details about life during the war. The letters were sent to various members of the Dartmouth community and collected into a group following the war, most likely by Maude French and Harold G Rugg. The primary recipients are Alan Ackerman Beetle, Class of 1936; J. (James) Moreau Brown, Class of 1939; Maude French, Art Librarian; Harold Goddard Rugg, Assistant Librarian; Herbert Faulkner West, Professor of Comparative Literature and William Maynard, Professor of Romance Languages. Also included are an assortment of pamphlets, guides and ration books.

In a letter that Ernest M. Hopkins addressed to "Dartmouth Men in the Armed Services," dated December 20, 1944, the President of Dartmouth College at the time emphasizes the "mingled feelings of pride in you, anxiety about you, and affection for you that we here have for you there." For each one of the alumni in service at the time, Hopkins goes on to say that he realizes "what it means that among the thousands of you who serve, some live daily amidst deadly hazards, other in suffering of mind or body or in dire discomfort, and still others in demoralizing boredom. This knowledge makes us living comfortably at home very humble concerning the little that we can do but vicariously very proud because of the spirit in which you are doing what has to be done." Today, we feel the same measure of humility and gratitude for all who have and continue to put themselves in harm's way while serving their country.

To see the World War II Narratives collection, come to Rauner and ask for MS-460. To see Hopkins's letter to the alumni servicemen, ask for the World War II vertical files.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Camouflaging" Mrs. Hapgood

Photograph of Elizabeth Hapgood, ca. 1916On September 27, 1918, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees officially appointed Elizabeth Hapgood instructor in Russian, making her the first woman to be appointed to the faculty. It was not a noble effort on the part of the College to diversify its faculty or a movement for gender equality. Instead it was a decision made out of desperation, fraught with worry and angst.

You see, Dartmouth wanted to start teaching Russian. World War I and the Russian Revolution demonstrated a need for government officials and business people with an understanding of the culture and ability to speak the language. Dartmouth was ready to help create these future internationalists, but they hit a problem. They couldn't find any men capable of teaching Russian.

By happenstance, there was a highly qualified, 24-year-old Russian speaker with teaching experience in Hanover at the time who was available. The only difficulty for Dartmouth was that she was a woman--and that kind of freaked them out. Louis Dow, who headed the Department of Romance Languages, and President Ernest Hopkins sent a flurry of memos back and forth lamenting that there was not a man to teach Russian, and debating the future consequences of putting a woman on the faculty. At one point, Dow exclaimed, "I wish there was some way of 'camouflaging' Mrs. Hapgood." They finally relented and made the hire, but not after some disturbing soul searching.

Close up of "'Camouflaging' Mrs. Hapgood" in Louis Dow's hand
To learn more about the hiring of Elizabeth Hapgood and the stories of other women who broke through Dartmouth's faculty gender barrier, come to the Woman on the Faculty: A Dartmouth Centennial conference this Friday, November 8th, at Occom Commons!

After that, you can learn more by asking for the Elizabeth Hapgood Affliates File, and the correspondence between Dow and Hopkins in DP-11, Box 6743, Folder 20.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Día de Muertos at Dartmouth

Portrait photo of Cesar Estradaportrait photo of Alofonso Estrada Jr.Today, as many people celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico and elsewhere (including an altar in Berry Main Street), we want to take a moment to honor two brothers from the town of Gomez Palacio, Mexico. Alfonso Estrada, Jr. (right), and his younger brother Cesar (left) were both members of the class of 1951 who came to Dartmouth to major in business before attending Tuck and Thayer, respectively. After graduating with their masters' degrees in 1952, the two men returned to their home country and became successful while working in the hotel, public works, and soap-making industries. According to our records, these brothers are two of the earliest Dartmouth students from our neighbor to the south. We are grateful for their time here on campus and we are glad that their stories are a party of our story, if only for a relatively brief period of their lives.

To learn more about the Estrada brothers, come to Rauner and ask to see their alumni files.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tales from the Old Burying Ground

Student lying on the ground in the Dartmouth Cemetery with title adn URL of podcast "Tales from the Old Burying Ground: Stories Inspired by the Dartmouth College Cemetery." dartmouthcemetery.podbean.comWe are very excited to announce the launch of a second podcast series related to items that can be found in our collections; items that will lead you straight to ... the Dartmouth College Cemetery.

Rauner’s Ilana Grallert has been giving tours of the cemetery for several years and has become the resident expert on all matters cemetery. This year, she and Colleen Goodhue of DCAL have produced a podcast entitled Tales from the Old Burying Ground--Stories inspired by the Dartmouth College Cemetery. Each episode is conceived, written and narrated by a Dartmouth College student.  There are stories about blackmail, emancipated slaves, fraternities and murder. Part of the 250th celebration, the eight-part podcast will launch, fittingly, on Halloween with new stories being released weekly.

Over the years we have highlighted several aspects of the cemetery including the story of William Worthington Dewey and the journal he kept of the deaths in “the vicinity of Dartmouth College,” as well as Arthur H. Chivers, Class of 1902 and professor of botany at Dartmouth College who painstakingly reconstructed the entire layout of the cemetery.

Other blogs about the cemetery include the story of the Risley family, stonecutters who created many of the descriptions on the 18th century and early 19th century stones and “Trembling for the Relics of Their Dead,” the story of a group of Dartmouth College Medical School students who were caught graverobbing.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Lies Hunt In Packs

Cover of Van Vliet's book Greed  The word GREED is printed in bold black letters down the golden spine and all over the golden cover of this stunning little square book. Inside, the pages are filled with lithographs made by Claire Van Vliet and printed by Eystein Hance-Olsen at SKHS in Oslo on Zerkall Butten paper. Published by the Janus Press in Vermont in 2013, this handsome volume is one of many that belong to Rauner Library's Presses collection. The collection itself is truly amazing, spanning nearly the entire history of printing in the West, from the Aldine Press in the late 1400s to artists' books printed this very year.

Propagandists lithograph and printed text
Van Vliet's book is an artistically powerful tour de force that decries the sort of greed and corruption that caused the Great Recession. The book contains four lithograph portraits, each representing a group of people intertwined with power, wealth, and exploitation: Propagandists, Lobbyists, Bankers, and Joe Public. On the facing page, various adages and details outline the vices that have perpetuated the suffering of the 99%. Some of the quotations that seem especially relevant to our current political situation are found on the page for Propagandists: "A lie said often enough becomes truth" and "Lies hunt in packs" are particularly apropos.

Joe Public lithograph and accompanying text

To look at Greed, come to Special Collections and ask to see Presses J268vagr.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Portable Fuchs

Frontispiece to Fuchs's herbalIn 1542, Leonhard Fuchs published his great herbal. We have a copy of that first edition. It is a beast of a folio, richly illustrated and dense with text made for serious study. But it couldn't easily be carried into the field for easy reference, so seven years later, an octavo edition was printed in Lyon for portability.

We were just able to acquire a copy with hand-colored images throughout: De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Lyon, 1549). One of the reasons we love this little edition is that it provides a wonderful contrast with the original edition in the classroom. Students can immediately see how form and function interact in a printed book.

Two-page spread showing hand-colored plants
As an aside, Fuchs is always fun to use because his herbal was placed on the index of forbidden books by the Catholic church--not because it contains any heresy, but because Fuchs had joined the Protestant Reformation.

Hand-colored flowers from Fuchs
To see the first edition, ask for Rare QK41.F7 1542. We are still cataloging the new one, but it will have a call number soon.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Room for a Few Girls: Co-Education in the Dartmouth Outing Club

Page from Jeff Stimson's Summer 1971 Lodge Manager report
In 1971, the issue of coeducation that was sweeping the college at large came to the Dartmouth Outing Club. Each campus organization was to inform the College of how coeducation would affect their operations and, as the largest and oldest outing club in the country, the DOC's operations were many. In my research on inclusion and diversity in the Dartmouth Outing Club, I've gathered that while organizational structure has been relatively incorporative, the traditional outdoorsmen culture of the DOC pervaded the club and hindered its ability to integrate women.

Even when the club did make strides in the years immediately preceding co-education, as in the all-female transfer student outdoor orientation trips that occurred summer of 1971, the cultural reality of the DOC undermined efforts. For the transfer student trips, there were only male leaders. The women were also reported to have been given lots of special attention at the lodge by the male crew. In his report as Lodge Manager for summer 1971, Jeff Stimson recommends future lodge managers "invite some girls up for the crew to enjoy the night before [the] trip begins" in order to keep spirits high. Undue attention to women, the lack of female leaders, and the clear sexual connotations that women had for the highest authority in the lodge shows that even when women were given the opportunity to get outside, it was not in the same manner as their male classmates. The DOC was at that time one of the more conservative organizations on campus, and its members were reluctant to change.

Change did come as women matriculated to the college as Dartmouth students in the fall of 1972.
Black and white photograph of DOC Officers that includes Elise Erler
Swiftly, the DOC began integrating. When elections were held for the 1974-75 academic year, Elise Erler '76 was selected as DOC vice president and became the first woman to serve on directorate. She is pictured on top of the rest of the all-male directorate in a human pyramid, clearly in the fold of the social dynamics of DOC leadership. However, despite the progress that women in leadership positions undoubtedly shows, a look at the meeting minutes for the hiking sub-club Cabin and Trail divulges a chauvinistic culture. John Blair Wood '73 included in the minutes from September 22, 1971 a rhyming poem referring to female genitalia. The poem, addressed to a 'Janet', is shown reproduced here on Dartmouth stationary and reads "I might be a ship/in your clit/moored. and under full steam/I'd fill you with cream." The poem was incorporated into the official club minutes, indicating it was read out loud during a CnT meeting. Offensive and brazen, the poem demonstrates a club willing to tolerate––and even laud––sexism. Wood, the author, would move on from being CnT secretary to Chair to eventually president of the DOC. Even when the club made large steps forward, the culture had a while to go in terms of respecting and appreciating women.

In the time after co-education, the DOC sought ways to include women into the fold of activities. Efforts manifested in first year trips, as Directors sought to explicitly recruit women leaders. In 1982, "An Introduction to the Dartmouth Outing Club" featured many women, even female members of the woodsman’s team, thereby undermining original claims in co-education reports that women would serve a merely decorative function in the outdoors. Later on in the 90s, the group "Women in the Wilderness" was formed to increase access to the outdoors in a female dominated space.

While we still have much work to do to ensure women are on equal footing with men outside (and inside for that matter), I am grateful to the women and administrators who came before me and made great efforts so that I might feel comfortable getting outside with the DOC. Their emotional endurance has made it possible for me to go hiking each weekend and feel like a full member of the social and cultural folds of the DOC.

A page from Joseph Schwartzman's letterIn his thoughts on how co-education would affect the DOC, Joseph Schwartzman '70 wrote: "The Dartmouth out of doors is a big enough place, and I am sure we can easily find room for a few girls." While the DOC did find room for the girls, it is more often true that Dartmouth women made spaces for themselves in the outing club.

And I am so glad that they did.

To see Jeff Stimson's Summer 1971 Lodge Report, ask for the Dartmouth Outing Club records (DO-1), Box 6182, Folder 18. To see the photo with Elise Erler '76, ask for the Outing Club Officers photo file. To read the Schwartzman letter, ask for the Dartmouth Outing Club records (DO-1), Box 6170, Folder 8.

Posted for Mia Nelson ’22, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2019 Fall term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowships provide full funding for a current Dartmouth student to conduct research with primary sources during an off-term on a topic related to issues of diversity and inclusion in the college's past. For more information, visit the fellowship’s website.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Confederate Chemicograph Backs

Confederacy $5 bill back printed in red inkOn the eve of the American Civil War's commencement, the newly formed Confederacy rushed to generate their own currency. The first bills were circulated in April 1861, just days before Fort Sumter was bombarded in South Carolina's Charleston Bay. In many ways Confederate dollars were ahead of their time. Instead of being backed by hard assets like gold or silver, the currency were essentially bills of credit, and promised to repay their owner the actual dollar value once the war had concluded and the Confederacy was victorious in its repulsion of the Union troops. After Gettysburg, confidence waned and inflation skyrocketed.

Another challenge besides inflation for the Confederate Treasury was a dearth of highly skilled engravers and printers in the South, as well as limited access to bank plates. As a result, many of the
bills had images that had been lifted from the original plates or notes that were available to the printers. In all, there were seven series of banknotes issued by the Confederacy between 1861 and 1864, the last one authorized by an act passed in February of 1864. For this last round of printing, the Confederates commissioned plates from an English engraver, S. Straker and Sons; the plates were called "Chemicograph backs" in reference to Straker's patented electrotyping process.
$50 Confederate bill back, printed in blue ink
Most of these plates never made it to the South, mostly likely lost at sea because of Union blockades. However, a small number survived. One set of surviving plates made their way into the hands of Philip Hartley Chase 1907, who donated them to the Smithsonian. Before doing so, he had a limited number of sets of prints struck from those plates. Chase then arranged to sell those prints in collectible packets, with the proceeds going to Dartmouth College. He eventually gave the Library a small set of the printed backs, along with other printed materials explaining their provenance.
$100 Confederate bill back, printed in green ink
To look through the various denomination for yourself, come to Special Collections and ask to see the "Chemicograph Backs and Confederate Treasury Notes" collection (MS-493).

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Poetry of Mary Tallmountain

Cover of "There is No Word for Goodbye," a chapbook by Mary TallMountain, a 1981 issue of the Blue Cloud Quarterly
This Monday is Indigenous Peoples' Day here in the United States, a day that celebrates and honors Native American peoples, their histories, and their cultures. The holiday originally began in South Dakota thirty years ago this October and has been formally adopted by numerous towns and cities across the nation since then. This year, we're celebrating by promoting our issues of a South Dakota publication, The Blue Cloud Quarterly, that almost exclusively features poetry by Native American authors. The Blue Cloud Quarterly was published by the Benedictine Missionaries at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota, for over thirty years and primarily consists of poetry chapbooks by Native American authors. In fact, it was the first publication of its kind to do so, and at least one scholar has posited that the Quarterly had a significant influence on the resurgence of Native American literary production during the latter half of the 20th century.

Cover of "Continuum" chapbook by Mary TallMountain, the final issue of the Blue Cloud QuarterlyHere at Rauner, we have a run of issues from 1977 through the final issue in 1988. These chapbooks are an exciting opportunity to hear the indigenous people of North America speak about their experiences in their own words. One such poet was Mary Tallmountain, whose poetry fills the final issue of the Quarterly. She was born in Nulato, Alaska, in 1918, to the Athabascan tribe. At the age of six, Tallmountain was separated from her family and her people and taken to Oregon by an adoptive white family, where she was abused and molested by the head of the household and forbidden from speaking her own language. As an adult, she began writing with a passion and published numerous works that dealt with the themes of Native and Christian spirituality and the interconnectedness of nature.

Tallmountain died in 1994, but not before founding the Tenderloin Women Writers Workshop in 1987 that supported local women in their attempts to express themselves through the written word. To read some of Mary's words, and learn more about her experiences and those of many other Native American poets, come to Rauner and ask to see Rare PS509 .I5 B59.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Butchering a Tree

Tree cutting diagramWe just picked up a nice guide for timber merchants from 1823. It contains everything you need to know to go into the timber business--the qualities of different types of wood; how much lumber of different types you can expect to get out of a tree of a certain diameter; a history of the use of wood in building; and a section on the "principle pieces of timber used to build a seventy-four gun ship of the line."

Tree cutting diagram
But what struck us most about the book was the hand-colored lithographs illustrating the cuts you can get from a tree. They look like those butchering guides you see for hogs and cattle, but in this case the tenderloin is the "keel piece."

Tree cutting diagram
To see the Timber Merchant's Guide, ask for Rare SD557.G9 1823.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Still in the News

Title page to Volume 2 of The Federalist.Originally published in the New York Packet in March of 1788, Alexander Hamilton's Federalist 65 and 66 were compiled along with the rest of the "Federalist Papers" in April and May of that year and published in two volumes by J. and A. McLean as The Federalist: A Collection of Essays in Favour of the New Constitution. The McLeans only printed 500 copies, but even that proved to be far too many for the market. Today, it is one of the most sought after first editions in American political history because it so clearly lays out the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.

Title to Federalist 65 "A further View of the Constitution of the Senate, in Relation to its Capacity as a Court for the Trial of Impeachments."
The world is paying particularly close attention to Federalist 65 and 66 right now because that is where Hamilton defined the power of the Senate in matters of impeachment. You can come in and see his original words in their first compiled form by asking for McGregor 56.

Friday, September 27, 2019

In the News

Ticket to Andrew Johnson Impeachment hearingRecent happenings in the news made us remember an odd little relic in the collections: a ticket to Andrew Johnson's impeachment hearing in the U.S. Senate on April 29th, 1868. The blue printed ticket seems like it may not have been used; the stub is detached, but still present. We are not sure if the owner of ticket 729 bothered to show up or if the bearer managed to keep both portions of the ticket.

Letter from Harvey to Churchill, June 29, 1912
It is accompanied by a letter from James G. Harvey, an attorney in White River Junction, to Colonel F. C. Churchill of Lebanon dated June 29, 1912. The letter starts out simply enough with Harvey telling the Colonel that he is happy to give him the ticket for his collection--he says he has been carrying it around in his pocket but keeps forgetting about it when he sees him. Then, after some niceties, Harvey exclaims: "What a mix up in politics. What is the country coming to I wonder."

Close up "What a mix up in politics"
Well, that sent us back into the news from that era to see how politics could ever be mixed up and just what was imperiling the country. The front page of the seemingly flourishing New York Times for June 29, 1912, tells the story. The Democratic convention was in its 10th ballot and still no nominee had been chosen. The convention was in Baltimore in the summer and it was blisteringly hot. Eventually Woodrow Wilson won the nomination on, get this, the 46th ballot! Wilson went on to win the Presidency later that year.

If you are interested in seeing the Johnson impeachment ticket and accompanying letter, ask for MS868279

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Wine Hills of New Hampshire

Title page of Hubbard's "Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians"
This week, Rauner Special Collections Library's reading room is abuzz with independent student explorations of numerous and various maps of the American continent from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Tasked by Professor Paul Musselwhite to identify a location of interest and then track how its representation changes over time, the Dartmouth students have been poring over musty old tomes in the hopes of finding a small portion of the world that captures their interest enough to write a paper about it. Some of these students have even ventured beyond the cart of curated materials and have requested books that extend their knowledge of the Americas beyond what was shown to them in an earlier class session here in Special Collections.

One such book is William Hubbard's Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians. Printed in 1677, this handsome little volume is the locus for a puzzling map mystery that has
confounded scholars for centuries. Little did the student know when she requested it that she would open a can of cartographic worms. Hubbard's book was printed in New England and in London, and each edition contains a map of New England. Here is where the trouble begins, for the American map is the first known to have been published of the English colonies of North America, and lists the "White Hills" of New Hampshire, now known to us as the White Mountains. However, the English map, while very similar, refers instead to the "Wine Hills." While perhaps a supernatural premonition of the sorts of activities that have happened far too often on campus, this designation is an obvious factual error. The enigma for map scholars, however, is whether or not these two maps were made by the same engraver and which of them was made first.

To see one of the earliest perspectives of New England, come to Special Collections and ask to peruse McGregor 79.