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Education: Image, Text, Touch

American Antiquarian Society founder Isaiah Thomas portrayed by actor Neil Gustafson. (Photo: Robert McCamant)

Friday, October 6, 6:45-8:30 pm ★ Christina Kraus, “‘Pointing the moral’ or ‘adorning the tale?’ Illustrations and Commentary on Vergil and Caesar in 19th Century American Textbooks”★ Shawna McDermott, “Phrenology and Childhood: Visual Portrayals in the Periodical Press 1850–1900” ★ Amanda Stuckey, “A Library for the Blind: Tactile Literacy and the Nineteenth-Century Embossed Book” ★ Laura Wasowicz, “From Plantation Bitters to Mi Abuela Facil: McLoughlin Brothers as ‘Manufacturer’ of Children’s Picture Books”


Conference participants returned to Antiquarian Hall for the Friday evening session revitalized, after a lovely cocktail reception at the Goddard-Daniels House. Our host, none other than the printer and visionary American Antiquarian Society founder Isaiah Thomas, escorted the group to the reception after regaling them with tales of his life.

Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War by Albert Harkness, New York and Cincinnati: American Book Company, n.d. [ca. 1886]. Plate I, top. (American Antiquarian Society)

The evening’s engaging presentations, moderated by Lauren Hewes, addressed nineteenth-century texts published to educate and entertain children and adolescents. Christina Kraus explored the placement of commentary and the use of illustrations in textbooks of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War and Vergil’s Aeneid. She questioned whether illustrations contributed to students’ comprehension of and interest in the texts. Kraus compared multiple editions by Charles Anthon, Henry Simmons Frieze, Edward Searing and Albert Harkness. She noted that sometimes illustrations had been added to later editions or included in a separate pamphlet, others had been reused/redrawn, and some had little integration with the text while others enhanced understanding of the text. Kraus is continuing her research comparing editions of these classics and the printing technologies involved in the production of their illustrations. She welcomed input from attendees.

“An imagined child correspondent of Our Young Folks.” From the June 1865 issue accompanying the article “A Business Letter,” page 372. (American Antiquarian Society)

Shawna McDermott  investigated the linkages between the interest in phrenology and physiognomy in the nineteenth century and the illustrations of children in periodicals intended for youth in that period.  She posited that physiognomic ideas about one’s outward appearance as a reflection of one’s character traits and intellect might explain why children were portrayed in publications like Our Young Folks in a similar way.  The stylized children were often illustrated as having large foreheads, round cheeks, and prominent eyes, which when read in physiognomic terms may have signaled intelligence or an affinity for language.  McDermott suggested that in the nineteenth century the visual may have been understood as a method for getting closer to “truth” than the textual.  McDermott provided much food for thought and plans to explore these concepts further. 

Page from The Blind Child’s First Book by S.G. Howe. Embossed in Boston Line Type at the Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA, 1852. Printed at the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind, 3rd edition. Boston, 1852 (American Antiquarian Society)

Amanda Stuckey provided a history of the printing efforts of Samuel Gridley Howe, the first director of what would become the Perkins School for the Blind. He set up a printing office to produce embossed books for the blind in the 1830s and pupils of the institute were involved in their production. In his Boston Line Type, Roman letters were used rather than a triangular alphabet or another symbol system. The books were cumbersome to hold open and the Roman letters were difficult to distinguish tactilely. Howe’s philosophy on educating the blind promoted the use of the same alphabet as sighted individuals, which he believed would be advantageous to their overall integration into society. Stuckey concluded with an overview of improvements in the printing process, competing systems, and other printing houses for embossed books later in the century.

Frontispiece and text taken from Juanillo Bocado, a picture book manufactured by McLoughlin Brothers for publisher D. Appleton & Company ca. 1870. (American Antiquarian Society)

Laura Wasowicz rounded out the panel, bringing the first day to a close with an exploration of colorful children’s picture books produced by McLoughlin Brothers. Drawing from the collections at the American Antiquarian Society and San Francisco Public Library, Wasowicz found McLoughlin had several entrepreneurial angles to its business. The firm printed the same titles with and without their imprint, for companies advertising products like patent medicine and flour. It entered the market for school audiences through its relationship with the publishers William H. Hill Jr & Co and Moss & Co. And it had a publishing arrangement with D. Appleton & Co to manufacture Spanish language books. By these means, McLoughlin became truly a manufacturing powerhouse of picture books in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We can look forward to the upcoming exhibition Wasowicz is curating at the Grolier Club in December.