Connected \\ July 20, 2021

Exploring new acquisitions at Phillips Library

One of the most exciting parts of my job in the Phillips Library is when we discover an item that perfectly complements our existing collection, or fills a gap in our holdings. The effort to find and acquire these treasures is one aspect of the behind-the-scenes work of the library, and we want to share with you the thrill of our new acquisitions!

On Monday, August 2, the Phillips Library staff invite you to our Reading Room in Rowley to view a selection of library materials that were acquired or processed during the last year. We will be here from 10 am to 7 pm to tell you about them and enjoy looking at them together!

You will see that we collect broadly, in both material type (books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, etc.) and subject matter (Salem, India, maritime, Asia, fashion, and more) to reflect the near-encyclopedic collections and activities of PEM. Several items from the approximately 1,500 that we acquired last year really stand out, and I will briefly mention three of them here.

Ranjani Shettar, Varsha (detail), 2012, Phillips Library, N7433.4 .S423 V37 2012 ++, Purchase, Library Visiting Committee Fund, 2021. © Ranjani Shettar. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Ranjani Shettar, Varsha (detail), 2012, Phillips Library, N7433.4 .S423 V37 2012 ++, Purchase, Library Visiting Committee Fund, 2021. © Ranjani Shettar. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.


Artist's Book

When was the last time you read a 40-foot-long book? Varsha is constructed in an accordion-fold format and stretches to nearly 40 feet when opened! In 2012, the Library Council of the Museum of Modern Art published this artist’s book in a limited edition of 150 copies. Ranjani Shettar (Born 1977, Bangalore, India) is known primarily for her large-scale sculpture and installation work; Varsha is her only artist’s book to date.

The book is comprised of 16 prints — a combination of etchings, silkscreens, woodcuts, pigment printing, and lasercut — representing the 16 phases of the monsoon and the classical Indian astronomy used to predict them.

Its unique, blackened metal covers depict constellations in a dark sky. M. A. Rauf and his son Mohammed Abdul Bari in Bidar, India, created these hand-worked zinc alloy covers using a centuries-old method.

Nathaniel Bowditch, Letter to Moses Dorman of Boxford, Mass. (detail), Dec. 16, 1794, Phillips Library, MSS 3, box 1, folder 1, Purchase, funded by Jonathan Loring, 2021.

Nathaniel Bowditch, Letter to Moses Dorman of Boxford, Mass. (detail), Dec. 16, 1794, Phillips Library, MSS 3, box 1, folder 1, Purchase, funded by Jonathan Loring, 2021.


Nathaniel Bowditch Letter

In 1804, East India Marine Society members elected famed mathematician and navigator Nathaniel Bowditch as its first inspector of journals to organize and manage its books, papers, and charts — in other words, our first librarian! This is among the earliest existing letters by Bowditch, referencing his pivotal first sea voyage of 1795-1796 and hinting at the intellectual talents and habits which were to vault him into the pantheon of American mathematicians. It is dated Dec. 16, 1794, when Bowditch was just 21, and predates by nearly 15 years any Bowditch letter to have appeared for sale.

Dan Finamore, Associate Director - Exhibitions and PEM's Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, explains, “This is the young Nathaniel Bowditch expressing dismay that he can't sail with the captain he wanted to on his first voyage. The captain he wanted to sail with, Gibaut, had a library he wanted to consult [on his ship].”

We integrated this manuscript into our Bowditch Family Papers collection (MSS 3).

Artists in the United States, Mugshot Album (detail of George Day, burglar), 1884-1885, Phillips Library, MSS 891, Purchase, Library Visiting Committee Fund, 2021.

Artists in the United States, Mugshot Album (detail of George Day, burglar), 1884-1885, Phillips Library, MSS 891, Purchase, Library Visiting Committee Fund, 2021.

Mugshot Album

We also acquired a little true crime this year: this album contains 47 mugshots of people whose crimes were conducted or who were captured on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The photographic cartes de visite – each approximately 2.5 by 4 inches – were created in 1884 and 1885. The album pages are notated in pencil above and below the portrait, listing the crime and the name of the criminal. Varying additional information is given on the reverse of the cards, such as aliases, age, physical characteristics, date and place of arrest, and photographers’ details.

Associate Curator Stephanie Tung told me that it is “a really interesting example of early uses for photography in criminology. Modern mugshots were not standardized until the late 1880s, by Alphonse Bertillon in Paris...before then, police and immigration officials used photography on an ad-hoc basis, improvising ways to match a face to a name. I think this is an example of a ‘rogue’s gallery’ to help victims identify their assailants.”

To see more of these items and many other amazing things, join us in the Reading Room on Monday, August 2. If you have not already visited us in Rowley, this is a golden opportunity to experience its atmosphere and take in a small portion of our new holdings.

If you can’t make it, we’ll also be doing a live streamed virtual tour on Tuesday, August 3. Otherwise, we are open by appointment to everyone, and nearly everything in our collection may be requested and viewed in our Reading Room. See the library web page for details.

Please note that face coverings remain required in the Reading Room, an enclosed space in which visitors spend long spans of time. We are retaining this practice for the time being in order to ensure the safety of the library staff and other researchers, and we appreciate your understanding and cooperation.

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