Secrets From The Vault

Lewis Carroll’s Typewriter

One of the questions my co-cataloguer on the Levy Project, Pam Abernathy, and I pose as we work our way through the collection of letters and manuscripts in the Morgan’s holdings is: how was it made? In most cases, it’s not complicated: the letter was written by hand, by the person who was responsible for its content. But in the case of MA 6390.3, a small scrap of paper that forms part of the Morgan’s large Lewis Carroll collection, matters were not so clear.

Making Visible the Invisible: The Morgan Library & Museum Printed Books BIPOC Checklist Project

This Black History Month at the Morgan Library & Museum, I introduce my fellowship project as a Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellow. The project goal is a daunting one: to find and organize a comprehensive checklist of creators with Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized identities represented within the Morgan’s Printed Book collections.

Marie Antoinette wishes to be back in the good graces of the French people

In this letter, dated September 28, 1791, Marie Antoinette writes to the Austrian diplomat Florimond Claude, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, about the need for the royal family to regain the trust of the French people. The comte de Mercy-Argenteau was instrumental in arranging the 1770 marriage of the young Marie Antoinette, then Archduchess of Austria, and Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France. When Louis became King Louis XVI in 1774, the comte de Mercy-Argenteau assumed a prominent role in the French court, and he was a frequent recipient of letters from Marie Antoinette.

Mary Lamb's not so gentle madness

The Romantic essayist William Hazlitt described Mary Lamb as the most “reasonable woman” he ever knew. This choice of adjective -- reasonable -- is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mary Lamb. Interesting, perhaps, or articulate, or even brilliant, but reasonable seems an odd choice to describe a woman who, in a “fit of mania,” killed her mother with a kitchen knife.

Master of Catherine of Cleves: Acquisition of a Previously Unknown Illumination

Late on a January afternoon in 2018, I was looking at the offerings of books, prints, and manuscripts in a catalogue for a forthcoming sale at the auction house of Venator & Hanstein in Cologne. At lot 533, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.

Missing Nuns Reappear

Ultraviolet image of a page that is lilac and purple in color with black handwritten text.

One of the most interesting aspects of researching rare books is finding signs of use that a volume has accrued over the centuries. Ownership inscriptions, marginal annotations, bookplates, and bindings are all clues as to where a book has been and who has used it over its long life. A 500-year old book that looks like it has never been read is a perplexing problem.

Moins connue, moins troublée: The Life and Work of a Queen

Being a cataloger at an institution like the Morgan means being surprised on an almost daily basis. You never know what will come across your desk. In early 2023, I took on the task of completing the cataloging of a large collection of nineteenth and twentieth century French music scores and sheet music.

My chest of books divide among my friends

John Keats died with £800 in chancery, due to him from an inheritance. He knew nothing of this though, and was effectively penniless while he was dying of consumption. In a final attempt to recover his health, he set sail for Italy in the fall of 1820 with his close friend Joseph Severn. A month before his departure, he acknowledged the futility of this journey in a short letter to his publisher and friend John Taylor and noted that the upcoming trip "wakes me at daylight every morning and haunts me horribly."

Napoleon congratulates Josephine on her (bogus?) pregnancy

Napoleon and Josephine were married in March, 1796, just days before he departed to take charge of the French army in Italy. In love with his new wife, Napoleon sent her passionate letters and begged her to join him. Josephine, however, preferred to continue her fashionable life in Paris, and to this end she confided to Murat, Napoleon's confidante, that she was pregnant.