Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the Rare Book Room: The Country's Largest Patent . . .

. . . as of 1937. That is the year Alfred E. Ischinger patented his "Uninterrupted Knitting of Shaped Fabrics" machine, which produced 26 pairs of women's stockings at the touch of a button. This invention almost completely automated the stocking-making process. The machine was able to switch among the eight different types of thread required to produce a stocking. After Mr. Ischinger invented his machine, only one part of the production process still required human hands: sewing the back seam. At the time of its issue this patent was the largest ever granted by the Patent Office. It contained 170 sheets of drawings and 146 pages of specifications. Our copy was hot off the presses: the first one issued by the Patent Office.

Students in Joan Shear's Intellectual Property Research class got to see this patent up close yesterday, along with a Letters Patent from 1836, in which an inventor sold his intellectual property rights in the Chimney Funnelled Fire-Place for $500 (shown here). As always it was great to have a class visit the Rare Book Room!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Nice Surprise

As we review the Brooker Collection documents for our ongoing digitization project, we are finding many nice surprises. This week's treasure was unearthed by our stalwart metadata reviewer, Dorothea Rees. It is a fairly large (7-3/4" x 12") notebook of 46 unlined leaves. Its owner, James Winch 2d, filled it with math problems, handwriting practice, and detailed notes about the weather in Templeton, Massachusetts. Dates of entries ranged from 1821 to 1857.

The Winch family figures prominently in the Brooker Collection documents. As these items become available on the web via Boston College's Digital Collections, we will be able to learn more about the daily lives of the Winches and other New England families. Not to mention the daily weather in Templeton!

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Virtual Exhibit: The Correspondence of Lemuel Shaw

Please visit our Flickr gallery to view our new virtual exhibit: The Correspondence of Lemuel Shaw. This exhibit features nine manuscript letters written to and by Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861), Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1830 to 1860.

The Boston College Law Library recently acquired these letters, which are housed in the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room. Danielle Huntley (BC Law 2009) and I transcribed the letters.

For best viewing in Flickr, click the "slideshow" icon in the upper right portion of the screen; the "show info" link will reveal the transcriptions. If you want to study an image before it whizzes by, skip the slideshow and simply click on the image and zoom in; the transcriptions are also available from this view.

This virtual exhibit is a bit of an experiment. I've been tinkering with ways to make images of our materials publicly available, freely searchable, and taggable with a minimum of fuss and rigamarole. Your comments about this exhibit and improvements to the transcriptions are most welcome.

This photograph of Lemuel Shaw is in the public domain. It is not part of the Boston College Law Library's collection.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Irish Potato Famine: A Letter

My colleague Dorothea Rees recently unearthed a fascinating letter in our Brooker Collection of early American legal documents. Dated December 20, 1845, the letter appears to be written by two business agents to a Philadelphia businessman, Mr. George H. Steiner. The agents, J.M. Bolton and E.G. James, write as follows:

"The steamship Acadia at Boston yesterday & her news here to day not so favorable as anticipated. Flour has declined in England ... it is now affirmed by the Irish Journals that the injury to the potato crop will be much short of the general apprehension. ... Prices have advanced too rapidly & in consequence we may look for further decline here. ... still urging caution in your operations."

Tragically, the correspondents were wrong about the extent of the potato crop failure. In fact, the great famine began the same year the letter was written, 1845, and continued for several years, decimating the population of Ireland.

But we have 20/2o hindsight. We know the magnitude of this tragedy, and it is unsettling to see it discussed so dispassionately by two American businessmen at the very time it was unfolding. That very disconnect is one of the wonderful things about primary sources: they give us information and opinions that would otherwise be lost to time.