Tag Archives: rare books

The Man of Myth and Legend: Lincoln Kirstein, Private First Class

This post was written by intern Jessica Zaccagnini.

It is an unusual occurrence when a movie can spark interest in an actual historical event. Often, people are content with the Hollywood version of a time or event in history and do not seek any further information about the factors that made the event Hollywood-worthy. Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, is a movie that triggers further curiosity into how such a story made it onto the silver screen. Monuments Men depicts a group of middle-aged art connoisseurs sent on a special mission during World War II to collect art from around Europe that was stolen by the Nazis. Though it is clearly stated that the movie was based on true events, it is surprising to learn just how true the movie is.

As it turns out, there truly was a branch of the military specifically dedicated to collecting the most historical and valuable art that was pilfered by the Nazis via orders from Hitler. The U.S Arts and Monuments Commission was established in 1943 during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. The commission was largely founded by David Finley and Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts. About 345 men and women made up this branch of the military and over the years following the end of the war, they collected over five million pieces of artwork.

Borrowed from http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/
Borrowed from http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/

The John Bale Book Company has a collection of writing from one Monuments Man, Lincoln Kirstein, who also happens to be portrayed in the movie. In the Hollywood movie, Bob Balaban plays the character Preston Savitz who is largely based on Kirstein, an art-culture icon. As the movie suggests, all of the men that made up the branch in real life had a job or an intense personal investment in the art world and their credentials made them experts in the war effort to get the stolen art back to its proper place and Kirstein was no different. Continue reading The Man of Myth and Legend: Lincoln Kirstein, Private First Class

Medical vs Artistic: A Choice of Imagery in the 19th Century

This post was written by intern Elise Plyler.

SofGMedical texts have a long history as substitutes for pornography. Books describing anatomy and reproduction have been lifted from bookshelves by curious young people and featured as the subjects of controversy for centuries. From this tradition comes the 1844 pocket edition of Michael Ryan’s The Secrets of Generation: Comprising the Art of Procreating the Sexes at Will. This book is an abridged and illustrated version of Ryan’s 1837 work, “Philosophy of Marriage.” It begins with an impressive frontispiece depicting two nude women stretched out on either side of a man in his bedclothes and the text is punctuated with four additional images of nude women.

These images are a far cry from those in the edition held by the National Library of Health, which depict the symptoms of venereal disease on men. While less appealing, the images in that copy are much more fitting; five of the book’s ten chapters cover the recognition and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The nudes have no relation to the text. They are, however, lovely classical images of women posing by lakes and forests.SofG2

The publisher of the copy in the John Bale Book Company’s collection appears to have taken a dry medical text, peppered it with mildly obscene illustrations and slapped on a “click-bait” style title that would not be out of place on a Facebook newsfeed. Despite its sensational title, The Secrets of Generation gives little practical information in its single chapter on influencing the sex of a child. However, it is strangely comforting to see that the practice of bolstering readership with misleading titles and pictures of beautiful women is not a modern aberration; the same techniques are seen in this book published one hundred and seventy years ago.

This book is not in the best of condition. Only a few remnants of the paperback cover can be seen on the spine, and the pages are spotted and folded at the corners. Despite this, the piece remains a wonderful document of nineteenth century theories of reproduction and an intriguing curiosity to explore.

“The Abuse of Plants:” Shen Shaomin’s “Grafting Operation Diagram”

FullCover This post was written by intern Elise Plyler.

“Grafting Operation Diagram,” by Shen Shaomin (1956- ), a contemporary and controversial Chinese artist, is a stark white tome. Its only exterior marking is the title reverse-etched on its thick, hinged plexiglass cover in English and Chinese characters. If the John Bale Book Company sold books by the pound, this piece would be a treasure based on weight alone. However, the real significance of the book is found on its 125 thick vellum pages. The book is a manual for the training of bonsai trees, but this is not your typical gardening handbook.

The “Grafting Operation Diagram” is a twisted parody of a bonsai manual. This book contains 38 pages of detailed illustrations of methods which push the boundaries of normal bonsai arts. Many of the techniques, such as skinning the bark from the trees and cauterization, are perfectly ordinary bonsai practices AntNibblingMethod(Deadwood). However, the naturally human-like form of trees allows these methods to mirror human torture; the clamps look like thumbscrews and shackles while the process of “ant-nibbling,” where the tree is smeared with honey in order to attract ants to bite it, is similar to the ancient torture known as “Scaphismus” (Gallonio 11).

While I looked through “Grafting Operation Manual,” I began to question the ethics of treating a living organism in this way. The trees are cut, burned and flayed. Even as I cringed at the mutilation of the bonsai, I recognized the hypocrisy in selective sympathy towards living organisms, an ideal underlying Shaomin’s book. Continue reading “The Abuse of Plants:” Shen Shaomin’s “Grafting Operation Diagram”

JoBa Cafe: At One With the Community

This post was written by Ede Reynolds. To see more of her posts, click here:

Dan and I recently unearthed a 2003 photo of Gov. John Rowland’s visit to our new shop.  He was on a downtown campaign tour to promote Republican mayoral candidate Mark Forte, a longtime friend of ours.  When Governor mentioned that his wife, Patty, had written a children’s book, “Marvelous Max the Mansion Mouse,”  I decided to host a booksigning in time for the Christmas buying season.

From left to right: Gov. John Rowland, Mark (a friend of the shop), and Danny Gaeta.
From left to right: Gov. John Rowland, Mark Forte (mayoral candidate & a friend of the shop), and Danny Gaeta.

We looked forward to the publicity her appearance would afford but it turned out to have afforded more attention than we anticipated.

Prior to the signing the press began questioning some of the Governor’s expenditures, citing that work done for his private benefit was performed at the state’s expense.  Adding fuel to the fire, Patty Rowland rebuked the press in writing by way of a Christmas poem.  On the morning she was to appear at John Bale I received an early morning call from John Murray who publishes the Waterbury Observer.

“I don’t think she’ll show,” he told me.  I waited to see what would happen and, a few minutes before the signing was scheduled to begin, Patty and her driver showed up.  When the press arrived I kept them at bay.  As a guest of the bookstore, she was there to do one thing–sign books.  Good manners dictated her visit with us should be civilized and focused. I insisted the press wait outside. The book was well received and we quickly ran through two cartons of copies.

When the signing was done, she retired to our second floor and called her husband.  A few minutes later Patty asked if she could invite the reporters for a private interview.

Continue reading JoBa Cafe: At One With the Community

JoBa Cafe: A Humble Beginning

This post is written by Ede Reynolds and is the first post in a series of posts about the history and day-to-day affairs of the John Bale Book company.

When Dan begins digging in boxes he tucked away years before, you never know what he’ll unearth.  This time it was a bookshop log I started when, in 2003, we moved from our location in the basement of Howland Hughes to our present location on Grand St. Our present 158 Grand St. store is a far cry from where we stared–down the street in a 400 s/f space.

A wonderful photo Dan Gaeta and Edith Reynolds, the owners of the John Bale Book Company  in the prime of their life.
A wonderful photo Dan Gaeta and Edith Reynolds, the owners of the John Bale Book Company in the prime of their life.

I hope this blog will allow us to highlight some of the things we do in the café and some of our community activities, but for today, I’d like to lay down the foundation of how we began in 1992.  It may have been empty nest or a mid-life crisis but Dan and I wanted to have our own business.  But what?  Dan was certain it had to be downtown for sentimental reasons (he started working as a delivery boy at age 13 for Cappy’s Deli on South Main St. He went on to earn a business degree from NYU so felt confident the world would be his oyster).

Me?  I was on a sabbatical from my job at what was then called Mattatuck Community College and on the board of directors for Literacy Volunteers.  I knew there were too few opportunities for our students to buy inexpensive books.  Voila! A used bookshop would be our experiment.

The storefront was a “white box” thanks to the landlord Gary Bellard and he offered us an inexpensive rent in order to fill the space.  Remember, in 1992  the Great Downtown Business Exodus had begun.

Continue reading JoBa Cafe: A Humble Beginning

George E. Matteson, Map Maker

Matteson’s own advertisement on the border of the map.

This post was written by Bilal Tajildeen.

One of the first rules of being a bookman that I learned from Dan is to keep an eye out for anything that may catch it– items laid in to a book, an oddly marbled fore-edge, or a certain aesthetic that seems ahead of its time. That’s why this George E. Matteson 1939 map of Scituate, Rhode Island is a wonderful example of a good find. According to an obituary found online, George Matteson, born April 22, 1902, died August 27, 1977, was a mapmaker, a historian, and a folklorist. While I’ve been able to find at least a dozen other

A full-length view of the map (photo taken in our rare book room), measuring approx. 41" by 47.5".
A full-length view of the map (photo taken in our rare book room), measuring approx. 41″ by 47.5″.

maps credited to him, it’s unclear whether or not all of his maps are imbued with such a powerfully creative essence as this one. While I was examining the map in order to take photographs for this post, before I knew it, I had a folder of 45 images, from which I had to select the handful I’ve posted here. If I let my eye rest– even for a second– I had to snap a photo. It is, truly, a pleasure trip for the eyes.

(Click “CONTINUE READING” for more details)

Continue reading George E. Matteson, Map Maker

Bishop Jonathan Shipley: A Voice of Justice and Reason in Troubled Times

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

In 1773, the relationship between Great Britain and her American colonies was being sorely tried by political conflict. This was upsetting to many Englishmen, who wished for their country to maintain its dominance, not least among them merchants who profited from the outrageous tariffs, taxes and other mercantile laws imposed upon the colonists. Another faction of shipley sermon title page (wmcarey.edu)Englishmen wished for harmony between the mother country and her unruly children, and these were the men of God, in particular Bishop Jonathan Shipley, who believed that the Christian bond between Britain and the colonists was, by duty, meant to be a sharing of “religion, culture, peace, and happiness” (Carey, 1). In his famous sermon delivered before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts on February 19, 1773 at St. Mary-le-Bow in London, Shipley spoke out against the exploitation of the colonies, whom he fondly admired, and stressed the need to maintain peaceable relations. Shipley was something of an optimist, as, during a time of heightened animosity, he believed that “a time… will come… when the checks and restraints we lay on the industry of our fellow-subjects… will be considered as the effects of a mistaken policy, prejudicial to all parties, but chiefly to ourselves” (xxii). A little more than two years later, the Bishop’s hopes were dashed, as the tensions between Britain and the colonies erupted in open warfare.

The copy of this sermon kept at John Bale Book Company is badly tattered and missing pages, but it occupies a unique place in the bookstore collection. According to co-owner Donato Gaeta, this booklet represents the earliest printed mention of Waterbury that he has encountered in his long career as a bookseller. The mention is brief, “The Rev. Mr. Scovil, Missionary at Waterbury, &c. in the former of his two letters, writes, that in Waterbury and Westbury there are 120 familes [sic], and 165 communicants” (Shipley, 24). Westbury and Northbury referred to the region now known as Watertown, which at the time was still part of Waterbury proper, but would split with the larger community in 1780. The Rev. Mr. Scovil referred to James Scovil, grandfather of the pioneer industrialist James Mitchell Lamson Scovill, whose legacy was one of the “Big Three” brass firms, the Scovill Manufacturing Company. The Rev. James Scovil “graduated from Yale College [in 1757] and two years afterward… became the rector of the Episcopal Church in the mission field of Waterbury, Northbury and what is now Bristol, Connecticut, becoming the first resident rector in Waterbury” (Pape, 5). This was a position that James Scovil would hold during the Revolutionary War, after which he moved to New Brunswick, Canada, indicating that he may have been a Loyalist.

Continue reading Bishop Jonathan Shipley: A Voice of Justice and Reason in Troubled Times

Thomas Lewis’s Peaceful End: A Return to the Soil That Nourished Him

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

The concept of a funeral sermon might seem strange to the 21st century mind. After all, eulogies, which are intimate, informal addresses often delivered by a spouse, relative, or friend of the deceased, have evolved to take their place. Funeral sermons, on the other hand, are formal, religious monologues delivered by a pastor or minister. One would imagine that such a treatment would be reserved for the passing of those whose significance is agreed upon by a large number. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, funeral sermons were a rather common occurrence.

The title page of the sermon (mentioned to the right).

A booklet of sixteen pages, with a pale green cover and pressed title page, has been kept in the archives of the John Bale Book Company. It is a published funeral sermon, itself not an uncommon thing. The sermon is entitled “The Peaceful End of the Perfect Man.” It is notable for its extensive Biblical references, all italicized. The title of the sermon is derived from a passage in the Book of Psalms. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace” (3). The pastor whose words are recorded, Reverend Holland Weeks of the First Congregational Church in Waterbury, establishes the essential Christian dichotomy in the second sentence of his sermon, when he mentions that “mankind have but two general characters ascribed to them in the word of God… the just and the wicked… the perfect and the transgressor” (3). It can be seen that the words delivered by a man of God were of a single theme, whether delivered from a pulpit or by a graveside.

Reverend Weeks outlines “the perfection of the upright man” in the next section of his sermon. After a lengthy discourse on what this perfection does not consist of, he informs us that “the perfection of the upright man consists in his being holy and sinless at those particular moments only, whenever he is in the exercise of grace” (4). Experience has taught me how elusive these moments can be, both in literature and in life. This funeral sermon illustrates how the remembrance of one man can be a reflection of that grace, and how its published record can provide clues toward its greater historical context.

Noah Baldwin’s signature!

The sermon commemorates the passing of Thomas Lewis, an early resident of Waterbury. The cover of the booklet bears the signature of Noah Baldwin, another Waterbury man. The sermon was printed at the office of the Connecticut Herald in New Haven, as Waterbury did not have a newspaper in those days. The particulars are as follows: on April 30, 1804, Reverend Holland Weeks, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Waterbury, delivered a funeral sermon for Thomas Lewis, a candidate for the Gospel Ministry.

These were the days when the Congregational Church was pretty much the only game in town, or, at least, the only one that mattered if you wanted to be considered a proper, upstanding member of  Waterbury society. Reverend Weeks, a 1795 graduate of Dartmouth College, was Waterbury’s minister for the years of 1799-1806 (Bronson, 291). While Reverend Weeks proved a minor personage, the mystery of Thomas Lewis’s death seemed to promise more than the two lines dedicated to him in Henry Bronson’s History of Waterbury. This brief statistical passage on page 519 gives a rather terse summary of the life of the deceased, “Rev. Thomas, b. April 13, 1777, grad. Y.C. in 1798, and d. in Georgia, March 3, 1804” (519). Lewis’s gravestone, located in Hillside Cemetery in Naugatuck, lists the date of his death as being March 4, 1804. In the preface to his history, Bronson admits to making mistakes, and here is a rather minor one.

Continue reading Thomas Lewis’s Peaceful End: A Return to the Soil That Nourished Him

A “Bungled” Execution and a Doctor’s Guilt: The Horrifying Debut of the Electric Chair


This post was written by intern Sarah Davis.

In a newspaper article dated July 1932, Alphonse David Rockwell, a renowned New York State physician who was an important contributor to the development of the electric chair, stated, “It is the principle of capital punishment that I oppose…it is only a measure of vengeance, an admission of the law’s futility.” This newspaper article appeared more than forty years after the first man was executed by electric chair; an execution that Rockwell, for all his contributions to the project, did not attend. In the final years of his life, Rockwell would deeply regret his involvement in the development of the electric chair as a means of execution.

Known as one of the pioneers of electrotherapy, Dr. A.D. Rockwell found his medical calling in the days of the Civil War, when he enlisted as a regimental physician. Even as a young man, his “hard, skillful and faithful work” (“Life Story”) caught the attention of his peers and superiors alike, and his extraordinary medical talents earned him the distinction of becoming the Surgeon Major of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry, the youngest in the Union Army (“Life Story”).

After the war came to an end, Rockwell’s interest in medicine grew. He became the family physician of the Roosevelts, caring for the future president as a child, and building a relationship that would last into his later life. Indeed, Rockwell formed a number of important relationships throughout his life, as indicated by the vast amount of letters he preserved in the pages of a large bound album. In addition to correspondence from Teddy Roosevelt, Junior, Rockwell’s associates included First Lady Florence Harding, progressivist clergyman Lyman Abbott, and photographer Jacob Riis.

In addition to his general practice, Rockwell’s more specific interests lay in the promise he saw in electrotherapy. In 1867, Rockwell collaborated with Dr. George M. Beard to publish a book on their findings. Titled The Medical Uses of Electricity, 1stEditionInside2Beard and Rockwell’s work explored the medical benefits of utilizing electrical currents to treat symptoms of various neurological and physiological disorders. Rockwell was one of the first physicians to utilize these somewhat radical ideas regularly in his practice. His proficiency in the field of electrotherapy eventually earned him the title of Professor of Electrotherapeutics in the New York Post-Graduate School of Medicine (“Rockwell Dies”). It was this expertise in electrotherapy that was, simultaneously, Rockwell’s gift and curse.

When the New York State Legislature passed an 1887 reform declaring death by hanging to be inhumane, Rockwell was called to devise a new method of execution by electricity. Known for his friendships with a number of social reform advocates, Rockwell was staunchly opposed to the practice of capital punishment. Feeling that criminals could “be put to better use” than death, Rockwell followed the consensus that hanging was inhumane. “If the law must kill, let it kill decently,” he argued (“Rockwell Dies”). For Rockwell and many others, condemning a criminal to swing from the hangman’s rope was anything but decent.

Execution by hanging was the primary method of carrying out death sentences in the United States for much of the country’s history. Initially believed to result in quick, painless death, improper calculations often resulted in slow death by strangulation. A slight miscalculation could result in the condemned taking up to twenty minutes to die by asphyxiation, or, in extreme cases, being brutally decapitated by the snap of the rope (“Hanging”). Regardless of one’s personal views for or against capital punishment, many at the time felt that a more humane method needed to be devised.

Continue reading A “Bungled” Execution and a Doctor’s Guilt: The Horrifying Debut of the Electric Chair

“Echoes” of the Past – The Early History of Baseball in Waterbury, CT

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

photo 2
The reward for winning this game is a “purse of $50,” which, today, would be over $1,200!

If any one sport could be chosen as an exemplar of the American spirit, with its lack of affectation, its sincere enthusiasm, and improvisational gusto, it would be the game of baseball. Waterbury’s overall importance in the professional game has diminished since the major league affiliation was lost in 1986. However, in a 1997 article, Jack Cavanagh of the New York Times raised the possibility that Waterbury “may have the richest baseball history of any city in Connecticut.” Published ephemera recently discovered at the John Bale Book Company provides a glimpse into this history. Ten bills, or broadsides (single-sided advertising flyers), printed by Malone & Cooley of 74 Bank Street announce a series of games played between July 30, 1884 and August 30, 1885. These bills are just a quick snapshot in time, and offer little to go on, but with the assistance of several reference volumes, a narrative begins to form.

In the third volume of Anderson and Ward’s History of Waterbury, Arthur Reed Kimball places the origin of baseball in Waterbury in 1864 with the organization of the Waterbury Base Ball Club. The members were all city men and included those “prominent in… official and industrial life, [who were] the best representative amateur athletic talent of a city which has been especially devoted to this American game” (Anderson, 1104). Games were mainly played with teams from other Connecticut towns and cities, but Kimball notes that “excursions were even made to New York and into Massachusetts” (Anderson, 1104). In a situation similar to today’s imbalance of talent, the advent of professional baseball in the 1860s contributed to the decline of the amateur league, as the better players and team officials followed the money.

photo 1
This game, starting at 11:00 AM, shows that small and local businesses were granted time in order to play.

Waterbury’s rise to industrial prominence during the Gilded Age placed it in an enviable position. Professional baseball was brought to the city with “substantial financial backing” provided by local businesses. Bills printed in 1884 by Malone & Cooley announced “Waterbury’s New B.B. Grounds”, the location of which became evident after further research. Kimball describes how, after the establishment of the new professional league, “the grounds at the junction of the two railroads was fitted up” (Anderson, 1105). William J. Pape, in his Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, briefly discusses the railway network in the Waterbury region as it existed in the late 19th Century (92-94). In 1884, the pace of industrialization was still gaining momentum and the network consisted of two main lines; the Naugatuck Railroad and the New York and New England Railroad. A 1874 map of Waterbury in the University of Connecticut’s MAGIC collection shows the junction of these two railroads to be located close to the present-day Republican-American building in the downtown area. This building, which is crowned by a magnificent 240-foot Italianate clock tower, was once Waterbury’s main railroad station. This structure had yet to be built in 1884, when most of the land between Meadow Street and the Naugatuck River was undeveloped.

Continue reading “Echoes” of the Past – The Early History of Baseball in Waterbury, CT