In any given period here in Watson Library we are digitizing a wide range of materials from our collection of nearly one million volumes, as well as a number of special projects for the Museum's curatorial and Archives departments. As a manager for many of these projects, my focus is ensuring that the material gets digitized and online as efficiently as possible—not necessarily delving deeply into the projects' content. But as 2016 wound down and I had a chance to take stock of what we accomplished over the past several months, I found the variety of materials that passed through our hands to be quite remarkable and worth sharing here. Some of this material isn't even online yet, so consider this a sneak peek and definitely stay tuned!
Above are covers from two novels published in the early 20th century. These are part of our rapidly growing collection of publishers' bindings, acquired primarily for the quality of the binding illustrations (since research libraries such as ours generally do not collect fiction of this nature). Once the photography of the 731 bindings in this collection has been completed, the photographs will go into the Museum's Collection database.
We are continually identifying things to add to our Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection (and probably will be forever!). Most recently we tackled a seven-volume set of weekly events calendars that took place at The Met between November 1924 and August 1931. The image above lists events for the week ending October 27, 1928: not only could one hear a lecture on Spanish painting by the venerable art historian Walter Cook, but children could also attend a story hour titled "A Secret Staircase the Smugglers Used: Having to Do with the American Wing."
Currently on display in gallery 743 of the Museum are furnishings from the lavish Fifth Avenue residence of William H. Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Accompanying that exhibition is volume 4 of Watson Library's copy of Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collection by Earl Shinn, published in 1883–84. This seemed like the perfect excuse to digitize the entire set—volumes 1 through 3 are currently online, and volume 4 will be digitized as soon as the exhibition closes.
The collection from the now-defunct Museum of Primitive Art was transferred to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976 and is now an integral part of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Thankfully the Robert Goldwater Library has a complete set of publications issued by the Museum of Primitive Art. Throughout the 2016–17 academic year, Pratt School of Information intern Jessica Dankers will be digitizing the collection—so far, 25 titles are online. Part of Jessica's internship will also consist of writing her own blog post about her project and the collection this spring, so be sure to check back for that.
Last Easter my colleague Dan Lipcan wrote a post about Ukranian decorated eggs known as pysanky. During his research he came across Opisanīe kollektsii narodnykh pisanok, published in Moscow in 1899. Since the book is in the public domain and only available in a few other libraries throughout the world, we decided to digitize it. It has been added to our catch-all Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries digital collection so that it is freely available to egg-decorating aficionados worldwide.
Although Watson Library does not actively acquire archival collections, we do have a few legacy collections that came to the library long before anyone currently working here was around. This fall we digitized the final collection we own that is in the public domain: Royal Mint Papers, 1827–1833. Yes, that's right. Why they are here is anyone's guess, but according to the catalog record, the collection contains "financial accounts, minutes, indentures, reports, memoranda, notes, and correspondence formerly in Herries' possession concerning the personnel and activities of the Royal Mint chiefly during Herries' tenure as Master [of the Mint]." You can browse our other archival collections here.
In 2012 we worked with curatorial staff in The American Wing to digitize their collection of rare turn-of-the-century publications and ephemeral materials from Tiffany Studios, Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, Tiffany and Company, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. Earlier this year Nonnie Frelinghuysen, Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator in The American Wing, identified a few loose pages from another publication to be added to the collection. A little sleuthing led me to realize that the pages she found were actually from Out-of-Door Memorials: Mausoleums, Tombs, Headstones and All Forms of Mortuary Monuments, published by Tiffany Studios in 1898. Luckily the remaining pages were in Watson Library's stacks, so not only is the book whole again in digital form, but the physical pages have been reunited as well.
We continue to add to our fascinating collection of trade catalogs. The catalog pictured above features beautiful Art deco wallpaper designs by the French firm Grantil papiers, peints, from about 1930. Staff from the Museum's Merchandising division were so enchanted by these images that they plan to use them in an upcoming calendar, which will be available at The Met Store in the fall of 2017.
We'll end with this broadside from 1666. Watson Library doesn't own too many items this old, which is why it caught my eye. It is a poem written by Edmund Waller, apparently in praise of the Duke of York's conduct in a battle at Lowestoft. The author is instructing a painter on how to depict such an esteemed victory, though he gets a bit carried away in the illustriousness of it all:
Painter, excuse me, if I have a while
Forgot thy Art, and us'd another Stile;
For though you Draw Arm'd Heroes as they sit,
The Task in Battel does the Muses fit;
They in the dark Confusion of a Fight
Discover all, instruct us how to Write…
We will no doubt breathe new digital life into many more strange, important, charming, historical, and beautiful things in 2017. Thanks for joining me on this look back into 2016's highlights!
In Circulation: Dan Lipcan, "Pysanky: Dyeing to Celebrate Easter" (March 30, 2016)