The French Book of Hours: Tradition and Innovation – An Exhibit at the Southwest Collection

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We love our exhibits here at the Southwest Collection, and so we’ve installed a new one showcasing items from our Rare Books Collection! Entitled “The French Book of Hours: Tradition and Innovation,” it displays the titular volumes of personal devotion that divided and classified time according to the liturgical cycles of the medieval church. Of course, the displayed items are replicas–the originals are far too valuable to expose to damaging UV light for any length of time. Even so, they’re a sight to behold.

Books of Hours were popular for several centuries, and were commissioned by and created for specific lay owners. Each is therefore unique, especially in regard to their artwork.  Still, many contained common elements, which often included the Office of the Dead. Two of the Books of Hours we have on display were created for Jean, Duc de Berry (1340-1416): the Grandes Heures (1409) and the Très Riches Heures (begun ca. 1412, finished ca. 1489), and it is their examples of the Office of the Dead upon which we’re focusing here.

Consisting of a collection of the church’s official prayers, the Office of the Dead seldom contains more than one illustration. Rather, it traditionally depicts a funeral service in which a priest or some other religious figure recites prayers over the dead. The image at the beginning of this blog comes from the Très Riches Heures, and depicts twelve monks seated around a coffin beneath a table decorated with the Duc de Berry’s coat of arms. The woman standing in the doorway may not be simply a nun, but the Duchesse de Berry herself mourning the death of her husband.

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The images above and below are armorial images of a wounded swan and a bear holding the Duc de Berry’s flag. They are embedded within the border of the page of the funeral service in the Grandes Heures. Occurring in the context of the Office of the Dead, they could be homages to the early deaths of the Duke’s sons.

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Here is another image from the Grandes Heures: an illustration of the Mass for All Souls. It is representative of the traditional depictions of the Office of the Dead, in this case providing a view into an interior where monks pray over a coffin covered in black cloth.

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The page above is replete with illustrations of historical and liturgical events. But what would a one of these pages be without the customary representation of death? Below the central miniature, which contains a corpse in an open casket, is a scene intended to warn the viewer that death will eventually take us all. That’s heavy stuff, but because this was illuminated in the years not long after repeated visitations by the Black Death, this was not an uncommon motif.

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This final illustration is a unique departure from the conventional images more commonly accompanying the Offices of the Dead. For one thing, it depicts an exterior burial scene, complete with excavated and partially decomposed corpses. It is possible that this image represents Duc de Berry’s personal relationship with death.

Our Rare Books collection is impressive, and these Books of Hours are among some of its most fascinating. If you’d like to see some of our other, similar materials, why don’t you stop on by and let our Reference Staff see what they can arrange for you? At least head over and check out the exhibit! It’s one-of-a-kind.

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From the Depths of our Rare Books: Victorian and Georgian Engravings!

It’s no secret that we love our Rare Books Collection here at the Southwest Collection. Ranging from pulp to more canonical works of literature, they’re a delight to browse. There are some oddities in there, though. Take our Engravings Collection, for example. Containing printings of engravings ranging from 1720 to 1895, they portray a diverse swath of Georgian and Victorian era United Kingdom life, with a smattering of India, Italy, and France thrown in. Just check these out!

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Many of the engravings in this collection graced the covers of periodicals. For just one penny, readers of Saturday Magazine throughout England had an opportunity to see the Duke of York Column. It memorializes George III’s eldest son and England’s legendary general, and is only slightly less effective in that regard than the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York.” When this engraving was made in February 1833, the column had only been standing for a couple of months.

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In the church of St. Catherine Cree lies Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, once the Chief Butler of England (among a host of other notable positions.) This engraving of his sarcophagus shows the knight looking pretty relaxed for a man who moonlighted as ambassador to France and Scotland while raising–or at least siring–10 sons and 3 daughters.

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It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone in the UK was able to travel to London to view its many splendors despite the proliferation of railroads at that time (the first public railway had opened in 1825, four years before the above item was published.) Only through engravings that were later printed onto publications such as this one, The Mirror, could British citizens hope to see the Grand Entrance to Hyde Park.

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French history was a popular topic in these engravings; revolutions in France doubly so. The lower image is an imaginative depiction of the 1848, or “February,” Revolution, which forced the abdication of King Louis Philippe and began France’s Second Republic. The upper one is of the ousted Louis Philippe upon his arrival in Newhaven, England, in 1848. Having ruled France for the previous 18 years, he was reduced to enjoying the protection of Queen Victoria, spending his remaining days in Claremont, Surrey, where he died in 1850.

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France wasn’t the only nation falling under the shadow of revolution in 1848. The Sicilian revolution of independence began in January of that year, and gave the island nation a brief 16 months of self-governance until the Bourbons retook it. But they could not take away their fine mustaches, immortalized in this image.

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Not all Italian scenes in these works were of violent revolution, though. Some were simple images sprung from the imagination (and, possibly, the real-world observations) of the artist. This street scene in Naples is one such. Whether or not it reflects a particular national bias by the British artist, it’s certainly detailed and lively!

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We end with another Saturday Magazine cover, this one featuring the Pilchard fishery. That’s not the name of the fishery itself, however, but of the fish, which you might know now as a herring or sardine. Harvested from Ireland to Australia, pilchard’s were big business. Big enough, anyway, to merit a full cover spread for Saturday’s readers in 1833.

And there you have it – the briefest of samples of our fine engravings collection! If you want to see more, look no further than our kindly Reference Staff who can get others into your hands without delay.

Wonders from the World of the Astounding and Fantastical Dime Novels

air rocketThere was a time not so long ago when adjective-slathered tales of steam-fueled engineering and two-fisted, crack-shot cowboys filled the pages of cheaply printed dime novels. We love those stories, and today, for you, we have a whole passel of some of the finest covers of the dime novels from our modest collection of them.

Now, normally we would try to provide some context or commentary on them, but this week we feel that these really speak for themselves. So enjoy the B’hoys of Yale, Thomas Edison, Jr., and the incredible Steam Man, and if you want to read them through, stop on by and visit with our Reference Staff who will boldly venture to our stacks and plunder them for you!

boys of yaleWhat hard-knock lessons await these scrappy boys of Yale University?

calamity janeCrack shot and queen of Whoop-Up. A maiden with which men dare not trifle!

electric sea spiderTom Edison, Jr., famed inventor’s son and Wizard of the Submarine world. Journey with him into the dark depths that not even Jules Verne could imagine!

deadwood dickDeadwood Dick strode the pages of many a dime novel, and you’d be the most villainous of rogues not to follow him in his adventures.

electricsubmarineYou saw Thomas Edison, Jr., above, but his era was filled with nautical ingenuity and perilous adventure. Frank Reader, Jr., son of the inventor of the Amazing Steam Man (below) left the trackless expanses of his father’s prairies for another boundless world: the briny deep!

steam manBehold! The impossible made possible! Perpetual motion across the vast hinterlands of these United States.

unknown planetAnd lastly, two boys who would not be denied, who sought the final frontier, the dark void that lies between we denizens of Earth and the unimaginable Unknown Planet!

Buffalo Bill and the Saga of His Dime Novels

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The SWC has a lot of books. Some of them are rare, some not so rare, and some incredibly entertaining. And as you may know by now, we love to share the latter most of all. These dime novels about Buffalo Bill are a prime example. According to the preliminary pages of the books, “they depict actual adventures…interwoven with fiction; historically the books are correct.” Is that true? Well, head on over to browse amongst them in our digital collections and find out. You could start with Buffalo Bill’s Determination, above, which having been published in 1910 is one of the earliest ones we possess.

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The Buffalo Bill dime novels were written by Prentiss Ingraham, a Mississippi-born author who served in the Confederate Army in 1861 where he was wounded twice working for the Texas cavalry. By 1884 he had met Buffalo Bill Cody, worked for his Wild West Show, and penned over six hundred dime novels, many of which concerned his employer. He swore up and down that they were based on actual events. Perhaps the above tale of Buffalo Bill’s Bold Play, or Tiger of the Hills–the story of Juniper Joe’s carefully guarded mine and the tragedies that befell him, the nearby town, and those who sought his fortune–was the truth. Who’s to say?

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But let’s back this story up for a second. What is a dime novel? Glad you asked. Typically published as pamphlets of about 100 pages, dime novels often spun yarns of the Wild West and figures such as Buffalo Bill (of course,) Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp. These heroes were cool customers, quick-drawing cowboys who were always on the lookout for maidens needing rescue from outlaws and Indians. Prentiss’ stories were among some of the most popular, and of course they only cost a dime (or, on a lucky day, a nickel.) By the 1920s, most of these publications were replaced by pulp magazines and, a little later, western novels of the Louis L’Amour variety. But in their day, audiences couldn’t get enough of them.

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Curious to read more about Buffalo Bill’s exploits? Then head on over to our digital collection of Ingraham’s stories. And if you’re interested in other rare books or our many archival holdings, browse around that site and see what you find. Finally, and as always, if you need to see something live and in person, our ever-diligent Reference Staff will get on top of that for you.