at Grinnell College Special Collections & Archives

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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!

Visit the SHLC at Grinnell College

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The Salisbury House Library Collection is open to research and visitors while it is being processed. See curated exhibits from the collection this fall in Burling Library Gallery and year round in the Magic Box in Burling Lobby anytime the library is open. Housed in Grinnell College Special Collections and Archives, visit us in the Reading Room (lower level Burling) for research anytime 1:30-5pm Monday – Friday or by appointment. To learn more about collection holdings and research inquiries, email the project archivist at archives@grinnell.edu. Research guides to support research during processing coming soon! 

Not sure what you’d like to see, but excited to see beyond the exhibit cases? Get in touch with us in advance and we can coordinate a visit for you or a small group to handle collection material in topics you are most interested in. Advance notice allows us to pull the material of most interest to you or some of the ‘greatest hits’.

Interested in bringing a class as an instructor? We are happy to plan a class visit to see SHLC material, learn about accessing and working with primary resources, and more. Sessions using Grinnell College Special Collections and Archives material and SHLC are welcome!

Get in touch! We look forward to introducing you to the Salisbury House Library Collection.

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