Cover bound in gray cloth showing mountain peaks with white-stamped highlights against a gold-stamped background with title lettering stamped in gold.

Front cover of A Search for the Apex of America by Annie S. Peck, published in 1911. F3423 .P36

Today when you buy a book at a bookstore, you expect it to come already bound from the publisher. But that wasn’t always the case. Before 1830, when you purchased a book from a bookseller, you were presented with a number of options. You could choose among more or less expensive leather bindings to suit your taste and budget, or you could even buy the book unbound in sheets or in temporary “paper over boards” so that you could commission your own binding.

Book bound in blue cloth with stylized letters and elaborate pictorial gold stamping.

Cover of Against Fate by Mrs. M. L. Rayne showing gold stamping. Published 1876. PS2679.R28 A33x 1876

That began to change around 1830. As literacy increased, there was an increasing demand for more affordable books, and publishers started to look for more economical ways to bind books than individually-crafted leather bindings. The result was edition-binding, or wholesale binding by the publisher for the mass market. Publishers developed book cloth that was much less expensive than leather but could be decorated in similar ways, such as with blind stamping and gold stamping (more on that later).

Most mass-market books from the 1830s through the 1910s were bound this way, often referred to as publisher’s bindings, after which they began to be replaced by paper dust jackets, which are still used today. Throughout the decades, the styles of these bindings have changed to reflect the social periods and artistic movements of their eras.

Here is a selection of some publisher’s bindings that can be found in the stacks of ISU Special Collections.

A book bound in blue cloth with a blind stamped central floral pattern inside a frame.

Blind stamped front cover showing a central floral vignette inside a frame. Poetry of Observation and Other Poems by William Asbury Kenyon. Published 1851 by Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nichols. PS2164 K4 P6x

This 1851 copy of Poetry of Observation and Other Poems, by William Asbury Kenyon is an example of the use of blind stamping. Stamping impressed a pattern into the surface of the binding, and “blind” means that there is no gold or color added to the surface. The next picture shows the use of gold and black stamping together.

Front book cover bound in brown cloth with black and gold stamping, showing the use of the diagonal and asymmetrical design.

Front cover of 1877 volume Edgar Allan Poe : A Memorial Volume showing characteristics of Eastlake style. PS2635 R35x 1877

The Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Volume, published in 1877, shows common characteristics of 1870s bindings, especially the influence of the British architect and furniture designer Charles Eastlake. Eastlake style can be seen here in the asymmetrical design and the use of strong diagonals.

Elaborate Victorian publisher's binding uses green cloth and gold, brown, and orange stamping showing a pictorial design.

Front cover used in the “Five Little Peppers” series, first published 1880, shows a very Victorian use of elaborate design and multiple color stamping. Shown here: Phronsie Pepper: The Last of the “Five little Peppers” by Margaret Sidney. PZ7 L913p

This binding is a good example of a Victorian binding from the 1880s with its  elaborate use of stamping, colors, and images. This particular cover appeared on the first edition of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and continued with other books in the series, including this copy of Phronsie Pepper: the Last of the “Five little Peppers”.

Book cover bound in blue-gray cloth, title lettering stamped in silver  with silver scrollwork decorations above and below lettering and along spine.

Cover designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman showing her characteristic simplicity and elegance and her particular letterform. Dorothy Q by Oliver Wendell Holmes. PS1959 .D6 1893a

The 1890s was a period known for binding designers. These were usually professional artists, often associated with a particular publishing house. One of these designers was Sarah Wyman Whitman, whose design of the book Dorothy Q, Together with a Ballad of the Boston Tea Party & Grandmother’s Story of Bunker Hill Battle by Oliver Wendell Holmes is shown above. In contrast to the lavish designs of the Victorian 1880s, Whitman’s designs featured simple and elegant forms and her own distinctive lettering style.

This gives just a taste of some of the artistic styles to be found in publisher’s bindings. If this whets your appetite for more, check out these excellent online exhibits:

Publisher’s Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books by the University of Alabama, University Libraries, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, provides extensive galleries and historical, literary and artistic essays.

Beauty for Commerce: Publisher’s Bindings, 1830-1910 by the University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries, Rare Books and Special Collections is organized by decade and provides a good overview of the development of the publisher’s binding over time.

And check out an earlier Parks Library Preservation blog post from our Conservator Melissa about her trip to the Rare Book School a few years ago to learn more about the 19th century publisher’s bindings in our collections.

As always, we hope to see you in Special Collections to look more closely at our fascinating rare book collections.

Posted by: Whitney | March 25, 2014

CyPix: Spring at ISU

It’s official – spring is here! The weather may not be cooperating, but the season has to win out eventually, right? In the meantime, enjoy this photo taken during Iowa State’s favorite spring tradition – VEISHEA. Here, the swans are taking advantage of an ice-free Lake LaVerne.

The swans at VEISHEA, 1936

The swans during VEISHEA, 1936, RS 22/12/G

Two of these swans are (presumably) the original Lancelot and Elaine, who were first introduced at VEISHEA in 1935. VEISHEA, for those not in the know, is a long standing tradition at Iowa State which this year will be held the second week of April. We’ll have more on this annual celebration in a few weeks. For more information on traditions at Iowa State, see our collection on traditions and legends, 00/16, which can be found in our subject guide. We also have collections devoted entirely to VEISHEA, including our digital collection, along with an online exhibit. And of course, tons of photos, including several featuring our swans, can be found on our Flickr page! This should all help pass the time while you’re waiting for the weather to catch up with the calendar.

Norman Borlaug, 1961

Norman E. Borlaug, near Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, northern Mexico, 1961. Photo courtesy CIMMYT.

March 25, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Norman Borlaug, one of the most famous plant pathologists of the 20th century. It also marks the unveiling of a statue of Borlaug in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where two notable figures from each state are on display.

Borlaug was born in Cresco, Iowa, and raised on a family farm. He received his degrees from the University of Minnesota, a B.S. in forestry in 1937 and a Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1942. After two years as a microbiologist with E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company – commonly known as DuPont – Borlaug spent 16 years in Mexico as the Rockefeller Foundation’s Associate Director of Agricultural Sciences. He later worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, also known by its Spanish language name Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trago (CIMMYT). In later years, Borlaug joined the faculty of Texas A&M University and established the World Food Prize, a Nobel-like award that recognized innovation in food production that advance world peace. The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates is located in Des Moines.

Borlaug’s litany of prizes for his efforts is a long one. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work developing high-yield, disease resistant wheat. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 2006, the highest civilian awards in the United States. The National Science Board presented him with the Vannevar Bush Award for lifetime achievement in 2000. Upon his death on September 12, 2009, figures as varied as several United States presidents, Indian prime minister  Manmohan Singh, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan paid tribute to Borlaug’s vocation of reducing world hunger. Locally, the Borlaug Learning Center on Iowa State University’s Northeast Research Farm honors Iowa’s native son.

MS 467, Box 13

A crowd of men, possibly in Lebanon, learn farming operations through an interpreter. MS 467, box 13, folder 55.

Here at Iowa State’s Special Collections and University Archives, we hold 28.6 linear feet of Borlaug’s correspondence, with a small amount of photographs and lecture materials.  More information on MS 467, the Norman E. Borlaug Papers, is available online. Borlaug’s alma mater, the University of Minnesota, has digitized its holdings of his papers, available online here. Still more records are available at Texas A&M University, including recordings of oral history interviews with Borlaug, and at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Considering his global vocation, it comes as no surprise that Norman Borlaug’s records exist in a number of locations as well.

The next time you’re in the nation’s capital, pay a visit to Dr. Borlaug in the Capitol; the next time you’re in Ames, pay a visit to his collection.

Posted by: Stephanie | March 18, 2014

CyPix: Mathematics and Community

Since Pi Day (you know, 3.1415926…) was on Friday, I figured I would dedicate this week’s photo to something mathematics-related, possibly from one of our collections regarding the Department of Mathematics or its current and long-time home, Carver Hall. However, in doing research, I stumbled upon the papers of Edward and Minne Allen (RS 13/14/51) and could not resist sharing a little slice of their lives.

RS 13/14/51, Allens

The Allens with unidentified people, on the steps of Steiner Hall, Grinnell College, circa 1960-1962.

Edward Allen was a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at Harvard University. From 1921 to 1985 – more than 60 years – Allen was a Professor of Mathematics at Iowa State. Minne Allen, a native of Sondershausen, Germany, also taught here in the subjects of economics and sociology until the early 1930s, when Iowa State passed a law forbidding family members to be employed simultaneously. Together, the couple were active members of a small Religious Society of Friends (also referred to as Quaker) group here in Ames. The pair was also very involved in the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, an affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which they helped found in 1935; Edward also served as president for three terms. Edward wrote about his work in peace and civil liberties, vocations shared with Minne, in his 1977 book Freedom in Iowa. Minne passed away in 1980, and Edward in 1985.

So, if you missed Pi Day, cut yourself a slice of pie and toast to the communities in Ames and in Iowa that flourished under the care of mathematician Edward and sociologist Minne. And when you’re done eating, come and check out their papers, RS 13/14/51, in the archives. The records consist of lecture materials, Iowa Civil Liberties Union materials, publications, course materials from Edward’s time at Harvard, and biographical information – including items in German.

The department recently received a letter, pictured below, that has now been placed in the Woman Suffrage Collection, MS 471.


Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

This letter, written on October 14, 1912, was addressed to Mrs. E. N. Mann of Boone, from Mary Safford, President of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association. Rev. Safford wrote urging Mrs. Mann to accept a position on the Board of Directors of which she was elected after having left an unnamed convention. Rev. Safford wrote:

In any event, I wish to congratulate you on the honor conferred, tho [sic] you may think yourself more in need of sympathy. That is understood, at all times, on my part.

In her effort to persuade Mrs. Mann to take the position, Rev. Safford added the following:

I urge all this for the sake of our common cause, and wish to add my personal urgent request that you do not permit anything to cause you to refuse to serve.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know how this turned out, and what convention this was. The following remark makes me even more curious (the words in brackets are educated guesses – the letter is a bit worm-eaten):

I greatly admired your [action] in [the] Convention and wish to express my personal appreciation of your womanhood as manifest by your frank statement.

What was this “frank statement?” What exactly went on at this convention? Perhaps someday we’ll know more about all of this, but in the meantime we have many other women’s rights-related collections that are worth viewing. These include Iowa State University. University Committee on Women Records,  the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, and the collections within the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering. Also see the Women’s Collections subject guide. If you’re at all curious about the history of women’s rights in Iowa, come in and read the rest of the letter and have a look at any of these great collections!

Posted by: bishopae | March 11, 2014

CyPix: Spring Fashions

March is here, and so are spring clothing lines!

As Apparel, Merchandising, and Design majors get ready for The Fashion Show next month, let’s take a look at an earlier ISU fashion moment.

Three women students ca. 1940 work in a Textiles and Clothing classroom decorated by bulletin boards showing current fashions. Two are working with a striped fabric and a small manequin or dress form: one is draping and the other appears to be cutting. The third is working with a pencil on a small drawing board.

Three women students work in a Textiles and Clothing classroom circa 1940. RS 12/10.

Here are three students in a 1940s Textiles and Clothing classroom working on a dress design. Two students drape and cut fabric on a small mannequin, while a third works at a drawing board.

Textiles and Clothing has a long history at ISU. Sewing classes were first introduced in 1879 as part of the Domestic Economy curriculum. In 1924, the Department of Textiles and Clothing was established. In 2001, the department was combined with the departments of Family and Consumer Science Education and Studies, and Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management to form the Department of Apparel, Education Studies, and Hospitality Management. The Fashion Show grew out of the annual style show presented by the Textiles and Clothing Club during VEISHEA.

We have a number of resources for the (historical) fashionista! More photographs of Textiles and Clothing students can be found in the photo set on our Flickr page. We have many collections related to the Department of Textiles and Clothing (RS 12/10) in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Also, check out the finding aid for the Textiles and Clothing Fashion Show Records (RS 29/2/4). And be sure to take a look at the fascinating Fashion Plates Digital Collection.

Posted by: bishopae | March 7, 2014

Women’s History Month: Mary Newbury Adams letters

In celebration of Women’s History Month, today we’re highlighting a newly digitized collection of correspondence: a selection of Mary Newbury Adams letters from the Adams Family Papers found on our Digital Collections website.

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams

Mary Newbury Adams.

Mary Newbury Adams was born in Peru, Indiana, in 1837 to Samuel and Mary Ann (Sergeant) Newbury. Her father strongly believed that both men and women should be educated, and so she attended Mrs. Willard’s Female Seminary in Troy, New York, where she graduated in 1857. A few months later, she married Austin Adams, a young lawyer who had graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard. They moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he eventually became a judge and was later elected to the Iowa Supreme Court and became chief justice there. The Adams had four children, Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbert (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).

In an early letter, dated February 21, 1857, Mary writes from school to her fiancé Austin (“My dear one”). She suggests that his cousin might come to call on her while she is spending a Sunday with her aunt in Lansingburgh, New York, the following month. “I should be happy to see him,” she writes, adding with maidenly modesty that disappears in later letters, “although I should feel rather embarrassed I fear.”

Mary Newbury Adams was an avid student of science, history, philosophy, and poetry. In a letter to her sister Frances, she explains that she has been studying earlier that day about the formation of minerals. “I have little time to go to the library now,” she writes, “but I manage to keep one or two subjects on hand to think about – just to hang my thoughts on.” She adds, “I never was so driven in household matters” (November 9, 1869).

She established the Conversational Club of Dubuque in 1868 to promote access to education and ideas among women. Club meetings were held in the homes of members, and the topics discussed included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, belles lettres, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences.

Reflecting on the importance of the clubs to women’s lives, she writes to her sister, “Our literary clubs are getting along finely and their beneficial effects are already evident in society. When women have clubs for study then they will not be driven for amusement to make society a business. Any amusement made an occupation becomes dissipation. All dissipation ends in disease. No wonder our American women are so weak” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, March 18, 1869).

In another letter, however, she attributes women’s weakness to a very different cause: the stress that comes from a very active life. Many women today can relate to Mary’s frustrations!

“I am not very well and then am driven by outside work – our literary club’s preparation for the opening of the Institute of Sciences and Arts. One doesn’t want to go and examine minerals when they know nothing of them[,] nor rocks when one can’t tell the difference between stratified and igneous rocks. Then the papers pile in and one keeps reading and taking notes & making scrapbooks so not to lose it before it is gone[.] Then the sewing, calls, church and one’s own body to care for. It’s no wonder American women are weak. They try to live ten lives in one and vote besides.” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, April 26, 1868)

In 1866, Mrs. Adams became interested in women’s suffrage and did much to promote it through writing and speaking. She was a member of the Association for Advancement of Women, the American Historical Association, vice chairperson of Women’s Branch of the World’s Congress Auxiliary of the Colombian Exposition, and numerous literary societies. She was a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association.

Mary Newbury Adams, surrounded by seven grandchildren.

Mary Newbury Adams with grandchildren, circa 1898. Caption reads: [top row] Emily Goan, Adelaide Goan, Olive Adams, [bottom row] Percival Goan, Adele Adams (on lap), Harlow Adams.

She wrote a letter home to her children on October 27, 1898, from the National Council of Women meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, describing her busy schedule, meeting with many people, old friends and new. She writes of her “level headed practical friend by my side Maria P. Peck.” Peck was another prominent Iowa woman from Davenport and founder of the Davenport Women’s Club (see entry: “PECK, Maria Purdy,” Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. ed. by John William Leonard. New York, NY: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. pp. 633).

The Mary Adams letters give a peek into the day-to-day concerns of a prominent Iowa suffragist and intellectual during her most active period. Be sure to take a look at the letters in Digital Collections. You can also come in to Special Collections and take a look at the entire Adams Family Papers, MS-10. To see what is included in this collection, take a look at the finding aid.

And to find other important women you can research in Special Collections, check out our Women’s Collections subject guide.

We always look forward to seeing you in Special Collections–online or in person!

Posted by: Whitney | March 4, 2014

CyPix: Cy Meets Satchmo

We all know Cy is one cool cat, but did you know that he once met Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong?

22-7-D_Cy and Louis Armstrong 1966_1648

Cy with jazz legend Louis Armstrong before a concert, 1966.

Louis Armstrong, in case anyone needs a pop culture history lesson, was a popular jazz musician whose career spanned the 1920s through the 1960s. He’s perhaps best known for his vocal renditions of “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly,” as well as his various trumpet solos. His performance of “La Vie En Rose” was even used in Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E. He also had a bit of a film career, starring alongside Bing Crosby on more than one occasion. Cy is pretty lucky to have met such a legend!

To see Cy through the years, have a look at our online exhibit, which includes this photo. Our Flickr page also has photos of our favorite mascot. Enjoy!

Posted by: bishopae | February 28, 2014

Happy 100th Anniversary to Iowa DOT!

April 9 of this year marks the end of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s centennial year, and ISU Special Collections has some great material documenting its history! But first, a little background…

In 1904 the Iowa General Assembly appointed Iowa State College (ISC) to act as a highway commission for the state. The charge of the commission was to design highway plans, conduct highway construction demonstrations, and act as an information service for county supervisors. The highway commission remained a part of the college for nine years until on April 9, 1913, the Iowa Highway Commission separated from the college. It was managed by a three-member commission including Anson Marston, Dean of the Engineering Division at ISC; H.C. Beard; and J.W. Holden. In 1975 the Iowa State Highway Commission became the Iowa Department of Transportation.

For more information on the history of the Iowa DOT, check out Iowa DOT’s historical timeline and their 100th anniversary webpage, and the Transportation portion of Iowa Public Television’s interactive Iowa Pathways website.

The following collections here in the Special Collections Department may be of interest.

People associated with Iowa Highway Commission/Iowa DOT:

Portrait of Anson Marston from 1942.

Anson Marston, 1942.

  • Anson Marston Papers (RS 11/1/11) : Professor and Head (1892-1917) of the Department of Civil Engineering and Dean (1904-1932) of the Division of Engineering, Marston also established the Iowa State Highway Commission (Iowa Department of Transportation). This collection contains papers and publications, research, engineering projects, and correspondence.
  • Fred R. White Papers (RS 21/7/33): Fred R. White received his B.S. (1907) in civil engineering from Iowa State College (University). He was Chief Engineer (1919-1952) for the Iowa State Highway Commission. This collection (1900-1974, n.d.) contains newspaper clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, photographs, blueprints, notes, and reports regarding bridge proposals, financing and construction of bridges in Iowa over the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

    Edna C. Mitchell sitting at desk.

    Edna Mitchell, from the Edna C. Mitchell Papers, MS 297, Box 1, Folder 8, Archives of Women in Science and Engineering, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

  • Edna C. Mitchell Papers (MS 297): Mitchell graduated from Iowa State College (University) in1917 with a degree in nutrition. While a student she also took courses in mathematics and drafting. After 10 years as a homemaker and the breakup of her marriage, Edna went to work as an engineer for the Iowa Highway Commission where she worked for 33 years. Among her responsibilities was the drafting of plans for maps, culverts, and road signs as well as the supervising of other women. This collection (1913-1993) contains biographical information, family genealogies, military records, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and diplomas. The clippings document her career as an engineer at the Iowa Highway Department.
  • John M. Dobson Papers (RS 6/1/52): Dobson joined the staff at Iowa State University as Assistant Professor (1968-1972) in the Department of History. He also served the University in various administrative capacities. This collection (1972-1999) contains materials mostly related to Dr. Dobson’s years as Associate Vice Provost. The collection includes correspondence, reports, and general information documenting, among other things, the Center for Transportation Research and Education at ISU and the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Printed materials:

  • Iowa Highway Map Collection, 1925-1991 (MS 186): The collection (1925-1991) contains Iowa highway and county highway maps. The county maps are marked “prepared by the Iowa State Highway Commission in cooperation with the Federal Works Agency Public Roads Administration.” The county maps represent all 99 counties. The collection includes oversized versions of the county maps from 1991. Also included are state highway maps.
  • Iowa Highway Commission publications in Special Collections (catalog search)
  • Iowa Department of Transportation publications in Special Collections (catalog search)

Community organizations in support of/in opposition to particular highways:

  • 520 First Association Records (MS 504): The 520 First Association, organized in 1970, had as its primary objective the immediate programming and construction of Freeway 520 (United States Highway 20), planned to go from Sioux City to Dubuque, Iowa. The organization’s name echoes their desire that this project be given “first priority.” This collection (1973-1975, undated) includes correspondence, news articles, memorandums, meeting agendas and a slideshow script. Most of the correspondence is between members of the 520 First Association and members of the Iowa State Highway Commission, the governor (Robert D. Ray), and with each other about their campaign to commence building of Highway 520 in Iowa.
  • Farm Land Preservation Association, Inc., Records (MS 108): Organized in 1976 to oppose the construction of a diagonal interstate (I-380) between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, Iowa, in order to protect and preserve farmland. The collection (1975-1979, undated) contains articles of incorporation, correspondence, court proceedings, environmental impact statements, a route location study done by the Iowa State Highway Commission, and news clippings.


Iowa Department of Transportation’s video “Highway Relocation” on Vimeo.

We hope to see you in Special Collections!

Posted by: Laura | February 25, 2014

CyPix: The New Dining Hall…and George Washington Carver

from Iowa State College (University) student yearbook, 1896 Bomb, page 167

George Washington Carver can be seen in this photograph from the 1896 Bomb, picturing the dining hall in the new women’s dormitory, Margaret Hall.

Although the exact date of George Washington Carver’s birth is unknown, he was born around 1864, which makes 2014 possibly the 150th anniversary of his birth!  As Iowa State’s first African American graduate who went on to become a well-known scientist, George Washington Carver items are frequently requested.  We have digitized a portion of the George Washington Carver Papers and photographs of George Washington Carver.  The George Washington Digital Collection is available through Digital Collections.  A description of the George Washington Carver Papers, a portion of which is available online, can be found here.

For February’s Black History Month, we thought we would highlight the image above, which shows George Washington Carver in the dining hall of the new Margaret Hall.  The photograph is quite striking, since it’s not often one sees an interior image of so many students in one photograph from that time period!  Other photographs of Carver while he was here at Iowa State can be found through Digital Collections.

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