Tuesday, March 24, 2015

When I edited the Eighteenth Century

One of the more peculiar job titles I've ever had, long before I was a professor, was "Editor of the Eighteenth Century." This was my task back in the mid-1980's when I worked for Connecticut-based Research Publications (now Primary Source Media), a company that had the contract for the Eighteenth Century microfilm project, which aimed -- ambitiously, it seemed then -- to film every unique work published in English between 1700 and 1800, based on what was then the ESTC (Eighteenth-century Short Title Catalogue -- now simply the English STC and extended to the birth of print), a database that was, long before Google Books, the key to every such work in any collection around the world.

This letter -- somewhat quaintly addressed to me as "Russell Potter, Esq., Editor, the 18th Century" -- concerned the quest to avoid duplicate titles -- the ESTC had been assembled to catalog everything and a number of duplicates or near-duplicates was inevitable -- because, at that time, it seemed unwise to spend the resources to film such things. With Google Books, though, the aim grew wider -- scan them all, let researchers sort 'em out -- and this, despite the best-laid schemes of the 1980's, turned out to be the way of the future.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Count Curly Wee

There's nothing weirder than other country's comics -- a fact that I've known since, at the age of five or six, I first opened a packet of British comics sent by my mother's UK pen pal, and first laid eyes upon The Dandy, featuring (among many others) Desperate Dan, Dirty Dick, Korky the Kat, and Cuddles and Dimples. And so, a few years ago, when I picked up an old paper from an empty seat while on the Irish Sea Ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, and saw a pair of comic panels, I had a feeling it might be another encounter with the comic otherworld. And it was: Count Curly Wee, originated by Roland Clibborn, ran under various titles in Irish newspapers, as well as the Liverpool Echo. Cliburn's style was unusual; he drew two narrative panels, with a poem in ballad stanzas at the foot of each. The resulting plates were all numbered; this one that I came upon on the ferry is 6685. Clibborn retired after plate 10,274 -- but I've been unable to locate much further information about him; the Irish Times had been re-running his old panels, which was how I stumbled upon them. His sense of humor was, to put it lightly -- unique -- but absolutely distinctive. If you find it to your liking, the National Library of Australia has a complete volume that you can read or download for free.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Invitation to the Exposition, 1876

The invitation was the sort given to important men -- and my great-grandfather-in-law, Mr. Jesse J. John, was such a man. He was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a man who had his copies of Harper's Monthly bound in leather, and carried a gold-tipped walking stick engraved with his name (I have both of these in my home library). So, when the Centennial Exhibition was announced, it was natural that he would be sent a complimentary ticket, along with a map of the speaker's platform (he was to be seated in Section E, two sections over from President Ulysses S. Grant, surely within range of his ubiquitous cigars -- not that he would have been the only one smoking them).

At the exhibition, Mr. John might have taken in all kinds of attractions -- chief among them the Centennial Tower, but also such themed buildings as the Horticultural Hall and the torch intended for the Statue of Liberty. He might also, if he had been so inclined, have visited other exhibits, such as the wax figures of Mr. Moulthrop, which included Chief Red Cloud, the 'Esquimaux' Hannah and Joe, and all the survivors of the Amistad.