The American Book

The American Book

A blog by Paul Taylor, Collections Manager

The American Book

The American Book

The collections we look after here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are many and varied and for some of the more unusual items it is an enquiry from a member of the public which brings them back into view.

In February we received a request to view a “big book” that had been bound by a local bookbinders and printers, Tomes of Leamington Spa. The son of one of the company owners had been told about the book when growing up and very much wanted to see it. We were happy to oblige although once we located it in the stores we realised that “big book” was something of an understatement. It measures 1.4m x 1.1m and is considerably heavier than any other book in the collection.

Amy Hurst, Collections Archivist, compares the American Book to a volume from a set of miniature editions

Amy Hurst, Collections Archivist, compares the American Book to a volume from a set of miniature editions

We enlisted some help from our friends in the Facilities Department and four of us were able to transport the book to a more accessible location and the enquirers were able to come in and admire the extraordinary volume.

Titled The American Book, it was created in 1927 as part of the campaign to raise funds for the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre to replace the one which burnt down the previous year. Contributors to the fund signed a small card which was then attached to the book. A quick read of the first few pages shows many important figures in American life ranging from Elihu Root, a former Secretary of State who was Chair of the American Shakespeare Foundation, to Solomon Guggenheim the businessman and philanthropist and Henry Folger, the president of Standard Oil and founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Contributors, including famous names, signed the book

Contributors, including famous names, signed the book

As well as these individual subscriptions groups and institutions contributed to the fund.  Those to contribute included the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, the Greenport Shakespeare Club from Long Island and Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio amongst many others.

The subscription of Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio

The subscription of Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio

One person has signed directly on the page and that is James Walker, then Mayor of New York City. He can be seen in this British Pathe film clip of the time signing his name in the presence of Shakespeare himself.

The book itself is in need of some conservation both to preserve the binding and also to reattach many of the cards which have come loose over the years. Fortunately an index had been created indicating the position of each card on each page and one of our volunteers has now added this to a spreadsheet making it possible to relocate each name more easily. It’s a remarkable object both in its scale and content, and we’re glad to have had it brought back to our attention.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diana-Owen/1059395773 Diana Owen

    Fascinating what you find in the archive of the SBT! Wonder if we could find a way to exhibit this treasure one day – and maybe repeat it?! Thank you for sharing it.

  • Liski

    I’d call this great folio “The Tsar Book” by analogy with the Tsar Cannon which is 5,94 long and also with Tsar Bell which is 6,14 metres tall and 6,6 metres diameter. They both are exhibits on the ground of Moscow Kremlin.

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.