Category Archives: Rare Books

SCARC Rare Book Collections in HathiTrust

HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries that digitally preserve and make accessible the cultural records in their care. As a member of the HathiTrust, OSU Libraries has access to millions of digitized titles through its robust searching platform. Catalog records in OSU’s library catalog (1Search) link to HathiTrust editions, allowing quick access to digitized titles in the public domain.

In recent years the platform introduced the Collections feature, which enables users to build their own purpose-built collections of titles. Featured collections on the HathiTrust main webpage include the Edison Collection of American Sheet Music, New to the Public Domain in 2024, and Women Composers. Even better, Collections allow for full-text searching within the collection, enabling powerful discovery and deeper engagement with rare materials.

In Summer 2023, we embarked on a project to create a HathiTrust collection for all public domain titles in SCARC rare book collections: Special Collections at Oregon State University. A full-text searchable database of our rare book collection enhances research and teaching in multiple ways. One class use example can be seen through GEO 511 History of Geography. This graduate class visits SCARC each year to learn about the impact and influence of Alexander von Humboldt on geography and science. During the visit, we build valuable observation and interpretation skills by examining SCARC materials in several categories to trace von Humboldt’s life and legacy. To build searching and research skills, we also walk through demonstrations of 1Search and other relevant databases. Materials for this class have been limited, up to now, to cataloged materials by and about von Humboldt, as well as contemporary journal articles, maps, and prints.

A search in 1Search for the name “von Humboldt”, limited to SCARC, yields just these ten titles. A search for “von Humbolt” in the HathiTrust full text collection reveals a much larger and broader set of results, with captivating contemporaneous details that show the true impact of his life and the broad range of his scientific contributions.

The earliest mention of him in these results is in a “domestic encyclopedia” from 1804, referencing his earliest scientific work on galvanic force and mushrooms. The great mineralogist Robert Jameson references von Humboldt in 1816, on the nature of obsidian, in a book that would become standard throughout much of the century. Citations of von Humboldt’s expansive and varied contributions continue throughout the century. They range from his work on physical geography and plant geography, South American indigenous languages, observations on animals, astronomical observations, and more. By 1821 Swiss botanist de Candolle was bestowing “immortal honor” upon von Humboldt for his numerous botanical discoveries and the resulting impact on scientific botany. In 1831, his powers of observation are celebrated in an appendix to the Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait, though with some mild annoyance by the author: “even the Baron Von Humboldt, to whose acute observation science is indebted for so many discoveries respecting the New World, appears not have noticed, with his usual care, the peculiarities of its bees.”

Over 3400 SCARC titles published between 1700-1860 are now available in the full text HathiTrust Collection. The collection does not yet include all available SCARC holdings within that date span; work will be ongoing to add all items in SCARC’s rare book collections published before 1928 and digitized in HathiTrust. Some multi-volume periodicals are still be added, as are items from 1861-1928.

A note on searching: searching for a keyword in the collection will take you to a page of results; to find exact matches, search the keyword again in the “Search in this Text” box in the left side bar. Note too that OSU Libraries has access to many, many more digitized titles in HathiTrust, accessible through 1Search; this collection is limited to physical items in SCARC, which can be physically accessed in our reading room on the 5th floor of Valley Library.

We welcome you to use the HathiTrust full-text collection for SCARC to enhance your historical research! (Have you found some cool stuff in your searching of the collection? Let us know of your research uses of it by emailing us at scarc [at] oregonstate.edu.)

Thanks to aman agah, Ph.D. student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, who began the work of populating the collection in Summer 2023; see also aman’s reflection on this work.

Exploring Ephemera: The Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera

Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian

The Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera is nearly ready for researcher access. Comprised of hundreds of pieces of printed ephemera produced between 1897 and 2010, this marvelous collection will serve researchers across a broad range of issues in nuclear history, covering scientific, religious, cultural, industrial, political, environmental, and other areas.

This occasion provides an opportunity to explore the particularly special genre of printed ephemera, along with its rewards and challenges. As a source type, ephemera often provides some of the richest information about a time period or topic, and can lead researchers to unique insights.

The genre has long been plagued by a problem of definition. Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the New York Academy of Medicine, describes the situation best: “Ephemera is a synthetic term applied inconsistently over time by historians and collection stewards…[it] has meant different things to collectors, librarians, and historians.”

Typically, the word refers to printed materials that are not commonly saved. The Ephemera Society of America’s delightfully illustrated definitions page presents a detailed history of the term, quoting Oxford Reference,

“…ephemera refers to “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time, items of collectable memorabilia typically written or printed that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Recorded in English from the late 16th century as the plural of ephemeron from Greek, neuter of ephēmeros ‘lasting only a day’. The word originally denoted a plant said to last only one day, or an insect with a short lifespan, and hence was applied to a thing of short-lived interest. Current use has been influenced by plurals such as trivia and memorabilia.”

Merriam Webster is slightly more judgmental in its definition, deeming ephemera to be something “of no lasting significance.” 

By definition, ephemera has its expiration date built into its creation; it is designed to be short-lived and discarded after use. Because of this deliberate temporality, ephemera that does survive its intended lifetime can often provide a sharper or closer view of a moment in time than other primary source types also surviving from that time. In this sense, ephemera is special even on the special collections spectrum.

The Harris Collection has many examples of transitory ephemera designed to be short-lived or disposable. Examples of these types include brochures, calendars, comic books, envelopes, flyers, leaflets, petitions, postcards, promotional materials and advertisements, programs, stamps, and tickets.

However, the collection also contains many ephemera items that are the opposite of this definition; things specifically created to last beyond one use and/or to be kept and saved. “Something of no lasting significance” depends on who is assessing that significance, and when and why. In the Atomic Age, for example, saving the item could in fact be a matter of life or death. For example, the cards below were printed to be kept in a wallet or pocketbook in case of a nuclear weapon attack, providing a handy guide for how to save one’s life in that potentiality. (Perhaps in that sense these do imply a single use only?) 

Other non-transitory material types in the collection that were meant to be kept include certificates, government documents, handbooks and manuals, maps, photographs, sheet music, and stickers. Defining an item as ephemera is sometimes dependent on its original use and context, when known. For example, today we might consider a physical photograph something to treasure and keep. But the photographs shown below were created for the purpose of press releases, which means they could be used once by a publication, then discarded if necessary (thus making their current existence more notable).

Pieces of ephemera dodge many possible deaths through time. Ephemera is generally what goes into the wastebasket when a purse or a drawer or a pocket is emptied. But at some point, some human decided that an item was worth saving. Many pieces in the Harris Collection bear physical evidence of that saving effort over time, showing careful folds, taped edges, and smoothed crumples. Perhaps it was merely chance that saved the item, safely setting it aside through a kaleidoscope of shifting human circumstances and situations.

The following five pieces from the collection illustrate the ambiguity of the term and raise provocative questions about the nature of ephemera and the lessons ephemera can teach us.

1. The Villager was the town newspaper for Richland, Washington, where the massive workforce for Hanford secretly resided. This Extra issue was produced in the hours immediately after news of the atomic bomb had been released to the world. A detail from the main story puts modern readers straight into the confusing fray of the news around town: “as in other parts of the country, it was the housewives who first heard the news over their radios, and broke it to their husbands in the flurry of telephone calls which kept the switchboards humming.” 

This page also gives us a look at how tricky it must have been to be a journalist at Hanford. Upon hearing the news, the unnamed reporter for The Villager immediately set out to spread the revealed secret on the street. But this reporter had the very frustrating role of breaking news both to skeptics and to those who had been repeatedly warned about keeping secrets. Reactions ranged from disbelief, to pride, to jubilation and hopes for the war to be over soon. Several workers voiced racist hatred of the Japanese. But many of them wouldn’t talk at all, concluding that they had been told never to talk about the project, their role in it, or anything else to anyone, and therefore had nothing to say: “You know we’re not supposed to ask questions.” 

This page is filled with remarkable statements that help us understand how Americans would collectively process the news of the atomic bomb. One small box in the center of the page asks “How Much Damage?” reporting that while everyone was asking the question, no true news about this fact was yet known: “Japanese news sources, while admitting the raid, did not reveal the extent of the damage.” Another small box asks “What is Atomic Bomb?” and marvels that “observers report that the explosion was thousands of times greater than an earthquake and may change the course of civilization.” This statement is repeated elsewhere on the page, suggesting the difficulty of conveying news of such magnitude to readers. 

The grouping of newspapers in the Harris Collection invites comparisons across different categories to aid in teaching and learning. When grouped with other Villager issues, issues of the Oak Ridge Journal and T. E. C. Bulletin, this issue can illustrate how workers of the Manhattan Project began to understand their role in this news and how it affected the end of the war. One of them likely kept this memento of the day the secret was known, and the day their world changed forever.

Visitors Guide to Hiroshima City Atomic Bomb Relics, 1949

2. This astonishing pamphlet, issued by Hiroshima City Hall, was produced just four years after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city. The black and white photographs that had been seen in the press showed charred, flattened, twisted ruins where a vibrant city had once stood; but the dead grays of those photographs are replaced here by bright blues, greens, and reds. Artist “S. O.” conveyed the hope and spirit of rebirth in the city at that time with this design, and with the flock of birds soaring above the ruins. The pamphlet describes the sights of the city, encouraging visitors to “See the Progress of Peacetime Reconstruction out of the Ruins of War” via a series of tram stops. 

The audience for the guide is identified as the “totally new tourist trade” for the city, made up of “pleasure seekers, scientists, and champions of peace.” (Who among these groups thought to keep this fragile pamphlet from the wastebasket?) The unattributed text inside uses precise, descriptive words to show visitors the city’s ghosts. At each site of interest, the text directs the attention of visiting scientists and ‘pleasure seekers’ towards the material evidence of the bomb, observable phenomena, and distance from the center of impact. 

At the Geibi Bank, 250 meters from the center of impact, “judging from the shadow mark on the granite steps in front of this office building adjoining Geibi Bank, it appears that someone had been resting there completely exposed to the impending blast..leaving a strange shadow of a man clearly discernible.” Other entries point out similar reminders of those lost to the bomb.  Away from the ruins, visitors are also encouraged to also seek sights of natural beauty at nearby Miyajima, “where cherry blossoms in spring and crimson tinted maple leaves in autumn are sights of exceptional beauty.” 

Perhaps this guide was not meant to be saved. But because it was, its lessons about forgiveness, peace, and resilience become lasting and poignant. There are two other known copies of the pamphlet, just one other in the US

A close up of the map showing the location of the
Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission
An Anti-Nuclear Songbook (as performed by Shelly & the Crustaceans), 1979 

3. This stapled, slightly crumpled mimeographed booklet is a beautiful artifact of the spirit and drive of antinuclear activists in the late 1970s. Shelly & the Crustaceans was an “independent performing collective,” derived from a Northwest antinuclear activist group called the Crabshell Alliance. (The Crabshell Alliance was the West Coast’s answer to the Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear group created to oppose the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in New Hampshire.) The Crabshell group was formed in early 1977 to “oppose the construction of the Satsop twin nuclear plants in southwestern Washington.” Shelly’s rallying songs are meant to be sung to familiar tunes of the day, such as “Under the Boardwalk” (re-titled to “Imminent Danger”). The core of the show seems to have been a “mini-rock-operetta complete with Mom, apple pie, a meltdown, and the lesson of Power in Union,” written for the people of Grays Harbor County where the Satsop plants were being built. 

The activists were up against difficult odds. They fought against well-resourced lobbyists and developers, as well as citizen apathy and ignorance. Lyrics to songs like “It isn’t Nice” by Malvina Reynolds reflect the activists’ stalwart rejection of the traditional strictures of polite public behavior they had grown up with. The adapted lyrics to “Sixteen Tons” warn local listeners about nuclear reactors and waste, as well as potential ongoing dangers: “If the strontium don’t get you / then plutonium will.”

Ultimately the Satsop project was doomed by skyrocketing building costs and building delays, combined with a ballot measure passed by voters in 1981 that required any further additional funding for construction to be voted upon by citizens. Perhaps Shelly and her Crustaceans’ dedicated advocacy had something to do with that fate. Only one of the ‘twin’ plants was ever built, and that was permanently closed in 1999. Other printed “nuclear music” artifacts in the Harris Collection include sheet music from the early 20th century radium craze, sheet music on the atomic bomb threat from 1945, and the next baffling item below. 

4. This poster was produced in 1980 (and is not a later satire as might be thought upon first encountering it).  The text proclaims that “[a]cting to protect the public safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a statement in the form of a rock & roll album” and promises “[m]usic that confronts issues.” The order form on the back proves this was an actual new wave band on an actual label called Official Records with an actual album entitled REACTOR. Besides taking issue with nuclear industries, the band tackled a wide-ranging agenda including sugar addition, fax machines, the military draft, and population growth. Quotes from Albert Einstein, Chuck Berry, and Adlai Stevenson surely enticed the potential record buyer. 

5. This beige brochure is just a folded, stained piece of paper. But even modest pieces of ephemera can tell mighty stories. The First Global Radiation Victims Conference was held at the Health and Energy Institute in New York City, and was designed to attract a wide audience of victims, their families, medical and legal experts, and activists. The organization’s broad goals include establishing and protecting the rights of all Hibakusha (a term for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broadened here to all victims of radiation), eliminating nuclear industries, reducing weapons, and beginning a global movement for survivors of radiation. 

The back of the brochure lists other publications available from the Health and Energy Institute meant to support and inform, including a Radiation Victims Organizations Directory listing by state, as well as brochures on women and radiation, and radiation hazards on the job. Though the conference itself did not endure beyond a couple of years, the attention to radiation victims and survivors of nuclear blasts would only increase in the years to come. Publications and ephemera such as those listed in the brochure, along with the dedicated activism of the antinuclear leaders involved, brought growing awareness of victims’ plight to the world. Within a few years, Congress would pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, the first Downwinders lawsuit would be filed, and new activist groups and conferences would emerge. 

Ephemera collections such as the Harris Collection contain rich materials to both support and inspire research. SCARC has many, many collections containing ephemera from the later 19th century to the present day. If you are looking for research inspiration or have an interest in the many forms ephemera can take, we are welcoming consultation and appointments at scarc@oregonstate.edu. The Harris Collection will be available to researchers this month – watch this space for an announcement. And next time you clean out pockets or drawers or attics, pause just for a moment before sending something on to the trash, and consider: what lessons might this teach in the future? That crumpled item may not seem “of lasting significance” at that moment, but someone years from now may thank you.

Serifs and Secrecy: The Smyth Report in SCARC

Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian

Though the pandemic has slowed progress on some projects in SCARC, staff have moved forward steadily on the work for cataloging, arranging, and describing our materials. In my case, I am working through the massive new acquisition of the Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of the Atomic Age in order to prepare it for various forms of description and access. 

This collection includes three major parts. The first to be opened for research will be the Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera. This wide-ranging collection presents a thorough view of the impact of the atomic age on modern culture and society, through thousands of pieces of printed ephemera in dozens of material types, including brochures, calendars, stamps, advertisements, pamphlets, posters, and more. The second part of the Harris Collection, the archival collections, will be processed over the coming years. Currently there are 25 separate collections identified, which include compelling manuscript materials from servicemen and servicewomen, participants of the Manhattan Project, power plant engineers, uranium miners, and many others. Finally, the third part of the Harris Collection is the book collection, which includes thousands of titles covering all aspects of the Atomic Age, and for which cataloging will be ongoing.

The broad range of the Harris Collection is part of why we considered this collection to be an excellent match to OSU’s strong existing collections on nuclear history. But, this overlap also means duplication of our existing collections will occur. When potential duplicate titles are encountered, items are examined against each other in a comparative process to ensure they are true duplicates. This exercise is a necessary step – shelf space is at a premium in our holding areas, and we must ensure it is used responsibly. Most potential duplicates end up being true duplicates, which are then discarded through our surplus property protocols, or by the conditions specified by the donor.

Cover of the Princeton edition

As I worked through the Harris Collection, there was one book which gave me a thrill each time I uncovered yet another duplicate copy. Whenever I spot this distinctive mustard yellow color, I become excited to meet another copy of this title. For this modest-looking volume can be considered a sort of Gutenberg Bible of the Atomic Age, in that it is the first printed document of a new era of humanity. Commonly known as the “Smyth Report” for its author, physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth, and released to the public just after the United States obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the first atomic bombs, A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes was the official government report detailing the work of the Manhattan Project. (Internet Archive).

Title page, Pauling copy 2

Smyth (pronounced with a long i sound as in ‘wife’) wrote this report knowing it would be a foundational text of the new atomic age. Though the bombs were built with science known before the war, it was not widely known whether, or how, this information could be applied to create a weapon. As Smyth reflected in 1976, “it was only a question of time” as to when the dots would be connected. When leaders of the Manhattan Project knew that the atomic bomb would be a viable weapon, they also knew that the general public would need a clear and concise explanation of this new destructive force as soon as it was unleashed. 

Preface, Pauling copy 2

Smyth hoped his readership would be professional scientists “who can understand such things and who can explain the potentialities of atomic bombs to their fellow citizens” (Preface). Though he did not expect the whole literate public to fully understand the scientific concepts, he did expect scientists in turn to understand, explain, and engage their fellow citizens with the “potentialities.” Smyth’s task was to report and explain new information to the entire world, but he also wanted them to think beyond the words on the page to understand the consequences of the information for every citizen of the world.

Smyth’s additional goal was to convey the administrative history of the Manhattan Project, showing how the atomic bombs came into existence. However, project leaders also required that certain information be kept hidden from the public. With General Leslie Groves’s close advisor, Richard C. Tolman, Smyth developed strict guidelines for managing and evaluating the information that would be reported in the document, ensuring that what needed to be secret would remain so in the final product.

Coleman’s checklist

The critical need for secrecy governed the report’s early duplication and distribution. When Smyth finished his penultimate draft in mid-July 1945, fifty copies were mimeographed in secret by project staff, then delivered by hand to selected Manhattan Project leaders under armed guard to review and return immediately. Much later, in 1976, Princeton Library Curator of Rare Books Earle E. Coleman worked with Smyth to painstakingly reconstruct the timing of various early printings and establish primacy in a detailed checklist. This first, closest-to-final version of the Smyth Report became known in Coleman’s checklist as the “mimeograph version” (Coleman 1). 

(Despite the fact that no copies of the “mimeograph version” are known to exist outside of Smyth’s personal papers, later owners, collectors, dealers, and describers of this title frequently use this term “mimeograph” with wild abandon to make their copies sound more primary than they actually are.)

After final corrections were made, one thousand copies were lithoprinted in heavily secured facilities at the Adjutant General’s Office in the Pentagon. These copies were stored in a safe at the Pentagon until August 9, after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, when President Truman made the decision to release it to the public. These copies went to members of Congress, Manhattan Project leaders and scientists, the press, and other select individuals. This version became known as the “lithoprint version” in Coleman’s checklist (Coleman 3). 

Foreword, Pauling copy 2

Once the secret was out in print, the press could reproduce any and all of the information in the book without consequence, due to the unusually direct and encouraging copyright statement appearing on all printed versions: “Reproduction in whole or in part is authorized and permitted.” (However, this was tempered with a secrecy warning from General Leslie R. Groves in the Foreword: “Persons disclosing or securing additional information by any means whatsoever without authorization are subject to severe penalties under the Espionage Act.”) Smyth and Tolman’s secrecy guidelines meant that many details were missing intentionally; for example, how much fissile material was required to make a bomb and the rate at which the production plants could produce bombs.

From this point on, the report’s impact could be seen rippling out through public understanding as references to the “Smyth Report” began to appear in newspaper articles, editorials, and scientific resources in mid-August. After a scramble involving a wartime paper shortage, Princeton University Press printed and released 30,000 copies in the first trade edition (Coleman 4) on September 15, which sold out within two weeks. Another version of 10,000 copies was produced about the same time (“September 20 plus or minus five days”) by the Government Printing Office (Coleman 5).  

Pauling’s Puzzling Early Versions

With the multiple duplicates added from the Harris acquisition, SCARC now has 22 copies of this matchless text, in nearly every iteration, including two very early versions in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. It is unknown how Linus Pauling came into possession of these copies; he reports that he got them in “summer 1945,” but does not name the source(s). 

One copy, which Pauling designated “copy 2,” has been optimistically misidentified in the past as a “preliminary draft copy in mimeographed version.” However, this copy’s characteristics more closely match Coleman 2, the “ditto version.” As Coleman specifies, this copy is printed in “ditto purple” on single sheets, with a blue paper wrapper. 

Coleman also notes that two identifiable typewriters were used in the production of the ditto version: one with serifs on the numerals, and one without serifs on the numerals. (Serifs are edges or strokes attached to the main stroke of a letter within a typeface. In the case of the Smyth Report, the serifs in question can be most easily spotted on the numeral 9.) Pauling’s copy 2 has exactly the pattern of alternating typewriters that Coleman specifies. The typewriter without serif numerals typed the front matter, Chapters I-IX, XIII, and Appendices 1-5. The typewriter with serifs typed chapters X-XII. Coleman also specifies that in the ditto version, paragraph 12.50 is in the middle of the page. In Pauling’s copy, however, paragraph 12.50 falls at the top of a page. This copy, therefore, seems to have elements which do not follow Coleman’s description of the ditto version. 

Comparison of serifs on the numeral 9 in Pauling copy 2

The ditto version is also the most mysterious in terms of primacy. After interviewing those involved with producing the report, Coleman concludes, “It seems plausible…that after all the corrections had been recorded on the master copy of the mimeograph version (which had been sent to the project leaders and others), copies were made by ditto from the master copy for the final approval of General Groves and any others he might wish to review the text before lithoprinting.” 

Coleman concluded that the ditto version likely precedes the lithoprint version, meaning that Pauling’s copy 2 is rare indeed, if it is indeed the ditto version.

Once bound in a three-hole punched black report cover, Pauling’s other copy is even more intriguing, and also does not clearly match any of Coleman’s described versions. 

In the description for the lithoprint version (Coleman 3 and the only other early version described, besides the ditto and the unobtainable mimeograph version), Coleman notes again that the same two typewriters, one with serifs on the numerals and one without, were used in preparing the stencils for lithoprint version. He gives a careful collation of the seven copies of the lithoprint version he had examined. However, Pauling’s copy 1 is largely the opposite of this collation. (See this table for a detailed comparison). Pauling’s copy matches the Coleman 3 lithoprint description for only Chapters V, VIII, X-XI, XIII, Appendix 1, and Appendix 5, but is the reverse of what Coleman describes for all other chapters. When the title page in particular in this copy is examined closely, certain irregularities in the type can be spotted; for example, the capital M is somewhat malformed, as are several other capital letters, and overall the spacing and formation of the letters appear somewhat odd.

Comparison of serifs on the numeral 9 in Pauling copy 1

Further, Coleman makes no mention of the ink color of the lithoprint version, but assumedly that was because it was printed in standard black ink. This copy’s title page is printed in “ditto purple,” and continues in purple until page I-17, when it changes in the middle of the chapter to black. The ink is black until Chapter VIII when it turns again to purple for one chapter. Chapter IX is back to black which continues until the end. The black pages are printed on a heavier paper than those printed in purple and those in the ditto version, and different from the paper in the lithoprint version as well.

The difference in paper is notable between the two copies; Copy 1 is nearly double the thickness of Copy 2

Coleman and Smyth acknowledge that in the copies they consulted, missing and repeated pages indicate that “the gathering of leaves was done in haste under the pressure of tight security precautions.” Neither of Pauling’s copies have repeated or missing pages, but each clearly departs from Coleman’s carefully checked bibliographical details. To fully understand how Pauling’s mysterious copies fit into the Smyth Report timeline, a complete line-by-line collation of each copy, along with a detailed comparison of other similar early copies and a full provenance investigation, would be required. For now, this secret will stay waiting for future researchers to uncover.

Circulation log, Pauling copy 1

According to the check-out sheet attached inside the front cover, Pauling made this copy and the other available to staff in the Gates and Crellin Laboratories at Caltech beginning late September 1945. But he was strict about how long the report could be circulated, specifying that it “may be borrowed overnight. (Return next day.)” This log shows that both copies circulated for weeks among staff, well into the potential availability of the Princeton edition (suggesting perhaps that the limited Princeton first edition was more difficult to get on the West Coast). 

Pauling’s lab copies were so popular that his bold, underlined directions about circulation were clearly ignored. The difference in pencilled names in the far column suggest that copies were handed around between multiple staff during one checkout period. This fascinating log is a record of how even Caltech scientists were hungry for new information, and eager to understand the force that had just changed their world.  It is also a record of when certain individuals first saw the Smyth Report. William Lipscomb, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was prompt in returning his loan. Crystallographer David Shoemaker accepted a handoff from J. Hendrickson but still turned the copy in on time. Jerry Donohue, who would go on to play a critical role in Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, was also an early reader of this copy. 

How interesting It would have been to hear this group of chemists discuss their impressions of the Smyth Report. Many chemists and engineers, including those involved in the Manhattan Project felt their important work was wholly neglected in the physics-heavy explanations. As Rebecca Schwarz has argued, the report’s silence on the critical nature of chemistry and engineering to the Project would deepen existing rifts between these fields for years to come.

In addition to Pauling’s early copies, The History of Atomic Energy Collection contains a copy of the lithoprint version signed on the title page by Smyth, along with multiple copies of the first Princeton edition, later translations, and later editions. With the additions from the Harris Collection, these make a notable set. Many of the copies were signed or inscribed by their early owners. These owners often make a point to mark the date of their acquisition, which often falls within months of its first publication. Several bear witness that Smyth’s intended audience of professional scientists were doing their part to explain and disseminate the report to citizens. One Manhattan Project engineer, Spud Spiers, proudly explained his role in the flyleaf inscription given to Alex Allan. Another copy was gifted by Manhattan Project chemist Henry A. Keirstead to his future wife Anne E. Williams in September 1945, which she then annotated extensively. Atomic energy industries were already getting a boost from powerful supporters such as Arthur Pew of the wealthy Pew family, who inscribed a copy to “a real friend of an industry which will never be second.”

But why would SCARC keep so many copies of the same book? What research value can there be, when these are just the same words in different packages? Though they may appear the same at first glance, differences and unique traits abound among these items, making them rich ground for teaching and learning. Because we have so many examples, they can be used to sharpen students’ close observation skills, or to explore now-unfamiliar methods for print and near-print production in this era such as mimeograph, ditto and lithoprinting. When paired with contemporary documents from physical and digital collections such as book reviews and newspaper articles, the Smyth Report offers important lessons in contextualization and critical source evaluation techniques. 

Our group of reports can also be used to teach provenance research and the movement of information through different channels. Nearly all the items have evidence of former owners, in the form of gift inscriptions, signatures, or other elements, which means they invite further biographical research. Answering questions such as “who read this book?” and “how did readers interact with this book?” can help us understand its importance to and influence upon various audiences, as well as the flow of vital new scientific information. 

Finally, because our editions are treated both archivally and as cataloged books in our collections, they present a lesson in discovery by demonstrating that the same source might appear in both the library catalog and archival finding aids, and in how to search in both environments. Within these catalog records and finding aids, there are numerous variations in historical description practices and levels of accuracy, which can teach powerful lessons on the challenges of archival search and discovery as well as the role of archivists as mediators in description and access.

Over the coming months we anticipate final release of the Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera, paired with ongoing cataloging for the book collection and description of the archival collections. In future posts, we will explore some fascinating intersections of the Harris Collection with existing SCARC nuclear history collections, as well as their potential applications to research, teaching, and learning.

Bibliography/Further Reading

Smyth, H.D. “The ‘Smyth Report.’” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 173–89. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404011.

Smyth, H.D. “Publication of the Smyth Report.” International Atomic Energy Agency Bulletin 4 (1962): 28-30.

Coleman, Earle E. “The ‘Smyth Report’: A Descriptive Check List.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 201–18. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404013.

Smith, Datus C. “The Publishing History of the ‘Smyth Report.’” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 190–200. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404012.

Carter, John and Percy Muir. “The Atom Bomb.” Printing and the Mind of Man. Munchen: Karl Pressler, 1983.

Wellerstein, Alex. Restricted Data : the History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Schwartz, Rebecca Press. The Making of the History of the Atomic Bomb: Henry DeWolf Smyth and the Historiography of the Manhattan Project. Dissertation, Princeton University, 2008.

Interview with Linus Pauling about his copies

Voices of the Manhattan Project: Henry DeWolf Smyth

A History of the Future

Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian

The start of a new academic year always carries such hopeful anticipation about the future. This is the annual moment designated to define our best academic selves, to pin due dates on the calendar, to imagine the possible achievements of the new year. In September, we collectively make the effort to throw off the limitations of the past, heave our hopes into the future, and breathe in the freshness of new potential.

Though it may seem incongruous, rare book librarians think a lot about the future. Navigating the inherent conflicts between our dual goals – preserving materials and making them accessible – takes forethought and strategy. Lately, my thoughts as a rare book librarian and archivist have been swirling with uncertainties around the future of research, academic libraries, and unique materials. How does the concept of rarity change as academic libraries continue to discard physical collections? What will special collections reading rooms look like in a year, in three years, in twenty years? How will researcher demand for special collections and archives change as we find our way in a new research reality over the next few years? How will the advancing climate disaster challenge our missions, and will we be able to adapt? With others in my profession, I am anxiously scanning the horizon for what might be coming.

Before the pandemic when we were onsite, I would take a walk in the rare book stacks when my mind started spinning with thoughts like these. I would pull something interesting off the shelf to help me interact with the past and put things in perspective. Though we are now transitioning back to more onsite work, for the past 20 months I haven’t been able to handle any of the books in our collections for more than a few minutes at a time. There is one book I have missed more than others, and I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Fasciculus Tempo[rum]… Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 1480.

Published by Erhard Ratdolt in Venice in 1480, the Fasciculus temporum (rough translation: ‘little bundles of time’) is an illustrated timeline of historical events from biblical creation up to the year of publication. (A digitized copy of the 1481 edition can be found via Google Books here.) German Carthusian monk Werner Rolevinck compiled the first edition in 1474 from a variety of sources. His text quickly became a bestseller due to both its practical features and its engaging content, and was republished dozens of times as a popular title promising easy profit to the printers in the burgeoning European marketplace for books.

The 1480 Ratdolt edition, his first of five over the next few years, begins with an index of events sorted alphabetically by first name or title of event. In our copy, a past reader has helpfully highlighted these first letters in an earthy yellow color for easy reference. This orderly presentation moves past the solid block of an introductory page (supplied in facsimile in our copy), but quickly turns to a typographical riot of of lines, circles, text, and illustration, all mixing together to represent the notable events, people, and relationships throughout history. Ratdolt based his layout on previous manuscript and printed versions of the Fasciculus temporum, but his lively, challenging pages have a special movement in them. The reader is pulled into the flow of time and bobs from event to event in the rivers of information.

In the first part of the book, the two timelines settle into parallel tracks. The upper timeline dates the years since creation (year 1), while the lower timeline, which Ratdolt has printed upside down and in reverse chronology, counts backwards to the year of Christ’s birth, after which it resets to year 1 and turns right side up. This layout, supplemented throughout with rough woodcuts depicting cities and events, is as eye-catching and engaging now as it was meant to be in 1480.

The parallel timeline, with the bottom printed upside down and in reverse chronology

During this infancy period of the new art of printing, printers signed their work in a statement at the end of the text called the colophon. A (very) rough translation of the colophon in the Fasciculus temporum would be: “Here ends the chronicle, which is to say, a bundle of time, so issued by a certain Carthusian. Now the second edition amended with some additions to this our time. Printed in Venice at the interest and expense of Erhard Ratdolt from Augsburg in the Year of our Lord 1480 on the 24th of the month of November and Doge Giovanni Mocenico, builder of the city. Praise be to God.”

The colophon

When he printed this book, Ratdolt was at the height of his creativity as a printer. He had been born at the right moment in time to be a teenager when Gutenberg introduced his printing press to Europe. Ratdolt grew into adulthood while witnessing the birth of the printed word, and in a sense he guided and shaped the new form as it evolved from that birth. He was the first printer to figure out how to print in three colors on the same page (in order to represent the phases of an eclipse); and the first to print in gold ink. He was the first to represent constellations in print. He was the first to date books in Arabic rather than Roman numerals. He created the first printer’s type specimen as a needed tool for his busy printing business. He invented my own favorite paratext, the woodcut initial. He also gets the credit for designing the first title page resembling our modern format. (Though dated, Redgrave’s article still has the most entertaining and thorough exploration of Ratdolt’s accomplishments.)

Ratdolt was also the first to figure out how to represent geometric diagrams, in his triumphant 1482 edition of Euclid’s Elementa (HathiTrust copy, OSU restricted). I have had the privilege of handling many beautiful rare books in my career, but the thrilling experience of handling the copy of his Euclid at a previous institution (San Diego State University) is among the most memorable. Quarter bound in black and green cloth, its front binding joint was very tender and it always had to be opened with care. But after that initial physical hesitation, the reader was instantly drawn into the geometric genius of the work. Page after page of labeled figures are set into and around the explanatory text, a printing invention that would change how the world learned geometry from then on. Margins meant nothing to Ratdolt, and he used the page space to the purpose he needed without the constraints of conformity. His Euclid, and indeed all his other creations, are delights of text and other page elements interacting in spirited, stimulating ways.

Ratdolt continued his contributions over a long and illustrious career. One biographer, Moritz Cantor, reports that Ratdolt “continued his business with undiminished distinction to an old age.” He died in 1528, so he even got to see his earlier work reinvented to its maximum when his new title page format finally solidified in the early 16th century (and he probably had a hand in that somewhere too). Despite this decorated career and notable impact, Ratdolt has a sadly puny Wikipedia entry. A biographical site linked there is rife with link rot. (What would this print innovator make of link rot?)

The second ever depiction of Venice in print

When this book was published, the familiar forms of the book that we know today were still being shaped, and that freedom from tradition is palpable on the pages. Ratdolt couldn’t know what the future of publishing would look like, but he had some ideas and ran with them, and ended up changing the way humans learned and read, now still up to our own time. His boldness, confidence, creativity, and unfettered vision still leap from his pages and inspire the reader, nearly 550 years after he had those ideas.

My favorite part of this book, though, is not among the printed pages. Our copy, in an early binding, has many indications of past reader interactions – marginalia, manicules, and other notes are scattered throughout. A musical staff is sketched next to the entry for that invention as a handy reference. One artistic early reader even added pen flourishes and decorative lines to enhance features throughout the book.

Perhaps it was the same past owner who gave this artifact its lasting power. Bound in after the very last page of the printed text are new, clean pages, neatly lined in a parallel timeline imitating Ratdolt’s design, waiting to be filled in so the reader could faithfully track events yet to happen. 

These empty pages take my breath away and make my heart skip a beat, every time. Most times, my eyes tear up too. The manuscript timeline, lined in a confident hand and stretching on for a dozen pages, conveys so much readiness and anticipation. These blank lines are hope itself to me, propelled forward by the imagination of what might come next.

Living at the end of the Anthropocene, through a human time defined by uncertainty and rapid change, it is easy to get lost in prophecy or dwell on what could have been. At this moment, we are disoriented and distracted. In every other Zoom meeting, someone mutters, “time has no meaning,” as they try to remember when something did or is scheduled to happen in this blurry era.

Artifacts from the past such as this one help me live in hope, anchor me in possibility, and focus my energy on creating the future. As we begin the new year, SCARC will be back in our 5th floor reading room welcoming researchers by appointment only. If, like me, you need to feel a spark of hope and fresh anticipation, I urge you make an appointment to see this book, and to wonder: what will you be first at? What event will you number your years from? How will you manifest your talents to improve the world? What will you look back on with satisfaction in your later years? How will you live outside the margins? What are your additions to this our time, and how will you make them last? What future will you create?

Best wishes for a safe and inspiring Fall 2021.

October is Oregon Archives Month, and we will be featuring other SCARC staff favorites from our collections here on Speaking of History.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Redgrave, G. R.  Erhard Ratdolt and His Work at Venice : a Paper Read before the Bibliographical Society, November 20, 1893. England: The Society, April 1894-September 1895, 1895.

Bowers, Diana. “The Physical Text is History”: Erhard Ratdolt’s Editions of Werner Rolewinck’s Fasciculus Temporum,” History of Art & Design Theses, Pratt Institute, 2015, accessed September 1, 2021, http://hadthesis.pratt.edu/items/show/62.

Bühler, Curt F. “Erhard Ratdolt’s Vanity.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 49 (1955): 186–88.

Bühler, Curt F. “The Laying of a Ghost? Observations on the 1483 Ratdolt Edition of the “Fasciculus Temporum”.” Studies in Bibliography 4 (1951): 155–59.

Josephson, Askel G.S. “Fifteenth-Century Editions of Fasciculus temporum in American Libraries.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 11 (January 1, 1917): 61-65.

Cantor, Moritz. Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Mathematik v.2: 265-68.  Translated by Richard Froese. Cited by JF Ptak, “The Color Blind Geometer and the Color-Coded Euclid,” https://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/10/the-color-blind.html.

Jeremy Norman’s ever-fascinating History of Information blog has many entries on Ratdolt’s work: https://www.historyofinformation.com/index.php?str=ratdolt