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SHLC in the Classroom: Lincoln letters

This semester Professor Carolyn Jacobson’s ENG 332 The Victorians visited the Reading Room twice to explore materials from the English Victorian era in our collections. From original serialized Dickens in their original blue paper wrappers to expansive extra-illustrated portfolios, students explored materials at their fingertips. The second class visit focused on the collecting phenomenon called extra-illustrated editions in which collectors take cues from references in a reading and “illustrate” their own copy with an illustration or piece of ephemera of the referenced person, place, or event. (For a crash course, see the Folger Library’s Folgerpedia entry and some examples from their holdings!) The Salisbury House Library Collection is home to an impressive array of examples of this practice from singular volumes to an expansive edition of John Forster’s biography Life of Dickens, in which the original 3 volume set grew to 9 portfolio cases and hundreds of extra illustration additions. Over decades of use at Salisbury House, some materials were removed for research from the original portfolio files and stored elsewhere–in flat files and other manuscript boxes. Little documentation of these items moving exists and so retroactively locating and reordering materials comes next. Most additions to this set were coded with a roman numeral and number system to designate where a reference was made in the original text, recording the original volume number, the case number, and page. As the first class to ever explore the 9 volumes of this set and materials removed from it and currently stored in flat files, students helped make notes of materials out of order and cases needing particular attention for further identification and order. More on this incredible set soon as a research project gears up and many thanks to these students for their help!

Accompanying the lore of this set was a mini-feature on it during a 2010 Antiques Roadshow episode. Among items featured in this clip is a document signed by Abraham Lincoln, who has a brief mention in Forster’s biography as a contemporary of Charles Dickens. A mystery we were able to unravel, however, is that the Lincoln letter shown in this clip was not an original extra-illustrated addition to this set–that would be its sibling located in a flat file and bearing the order code from the extra-illustrated set. Further determining the provenance of the Lincoln letter shown in the Antiques Roadshow video is that it is in a bound volume with the spine title ‘AUTOGRAPH LETTER ETC. ON THE MARRIAGE OF H.R.H. THE PRINCE OF WALES – ABRAHAM LINCOLN – 1863’, the signed document accompanied with images of Lincoln, the Prince and Princess of Wales, Albert and Victoria, and curiously, a letter tracing two previous owners surrounding a sale in 1905 of the document along with a laid in image of Lincoln’s funeral and a stamp of the bookseller Harry Marks. A provenance letter connects that Harry Marks was the bookseller from whom Carl Weeks of Salisbury House purchased this, although that date has yet to be determined. The Lincoln letter originally acquired for the extra-illustrated set is from then presidential nominee Lincoln responding to an autograph request in June 1860. Research into the recipient is yet to be completed, but it appears they may have been in Europe as Lincoln adds in his address that he is located in the United States and a note following in another hand–yet to be transcribed and translated–appears to be in German.

Research into these items and this extensive extra-illustrated example continue and we’ll be featuring more from this set in 2024. Many thanks to Prof. Jacobson and students of ENG 332 for their assistance beginning to explore this research trove!

SHLC in the Classroom: the Eliot Bible and education

This week the Reading Room hosted an education course for two sessions examining historical perspectives on US education. Material from the SHLC joined Grinnell College Special Collections and Archives material in five stations covering course themes. One of the SHLC items students worked with was a 1685 excerpt from the Eliot’s Indian Bible, a touchpoint for class material on race, assimilation, and history of education. Alongside students this week, we learned more about the history one page from the collection carries and its context in history.

A leaf from the Eliot Bible, or Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God. 2nd edition printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1685. 

 Alternate titles: Algonquian Bible. Eliot’s Bible. The Indian Bible.

About the Eliot Bible  

The Eliot Indian Bible was the first bible printed in British North America. The work is a translation of the Geneva Bible into the indigenous Massachusett dialect, a branch of Algonquian language. The first edition was printed as New Testament only in 1661 and was followed in 1663 by a full translation of 66 books from the Old and New Testament.  

John Eliot (1604-1690), an English Puritan minister, arrived to the Massachusett Bay Colony in 1631. In an attempt to evangelize and convert Native Americans, he spent fourteen years learning the Massachusett language and translating the Christian Bible into a language previously unwritten. Eliot and other English collaborators are credited on title pages of early editions of the “Indian Bible”, but omit his indigenous collaborators Job Nesutan (Massachusett), John Sassamon (Massachusett), Cockenoe (Montaukett) and James Printer (Nipmuk) who assisted in his learning the language, devising a written system, and translation. James Printer was a printer’s apprentice at Samuel Green’s press where original editions were printed.  

About the second edition  

Many first editions of Eliot’s translations were lost during the destruction of King Philip’s War (1675-1676) which decimated the indigenous population of southern New England. In 1685, Eliot and surviving collaborators assisted in a corrected second edition being published, again at the press of Samuel Green and with the assistance of John Printer. It is assumed about 2,000 second editions were produced; an unknown number of books exist today. A surviving copy of this edition is digitized at the Internet Archive.  The Salisbury House Library Collection leaf is page 449/450 in the digitized edition; it comes from the book of II Chronicles. 

The image at right shows the original title page of this edition; an English translation reads:

Image of an original title page from this print edition from the Internet Archive digitized copy.

The Whole Holy His-Bible God, both Old Testament and also New Testament. This turned by the-servant-of-Christ, who is called John Eliot. [Nahohtoeu ontchetoe Printeuoomuk.] 

Cambridge.  

Printed by Samuel Green.  MDCLXXXV (1685) 

Samuel Green was one of the earliest printers in the American colonies and was based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. James Printer worked in his print shop as a printer’s apprentice, then typesetter.  

The SHLC Leaf: What we don’t know

The origin of the SHLC leaf–including when or from whom it was purchased–remains unknown as this item doesn’t have corresponding provenance information. It is housed in a paper folder with mylar (a preservation safe film) window cover with a mount that appears to be the second or third instance of it being displayed as a single leaf. Book breaking, or separating pages from books for individual sale was common among book sellers during the Weeks family era of collecting. One of the most infamous ‘book-breakers’ or biblioclasts, as he called himself, was Otto Ege who would assemble portfolios for sale. Who sold this leaf–was it from Otto Ege himself? Where have other leaves from this copy gone? Who were past owners?

The language today

The historical Massachusett language recorded in the Eliot translation is also known as Natick or Wôpanâak and associated with the Wompanoag tribe today. With great losses to the population during the 17th century from epidemics, violence, relocation, and assimilation inflicted by colonization, the language has been an endangered or “sleeping language” for over a century with lack of native and fluent speakers and communities of youth learning the language. The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP) began in the 1990s to revitalize the language and continues today. Learn more about the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project at www.wlrp.org or hear more about language reclamation from a March 2021 public radio highlight On Point. 

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