Bleak House was Charles Dickens’s ninth novel, and, according to Dickens scholar Paul Schlicke, “technically his most ambitious novel and widely held to be his masterpiece.” The novel had four important editions while Dickens was alive—as monthly serials from 1852 to 1853 (in twenty parts that came out in nineteen pamphlets because the nineteenth and twentieth parts were combined), the Cheap Edition of 1858, the Library Edition of 1868, and the Charles Dickens Edition of 1869.
The first edition of the novel, the monthly serialization in nineteen pamphlets, is one of the most exciting items in the SCA collection of rare books.
Bleak House had mixed reviews when it first came out. While the structure of the novel was praised, its forceful indictment of oppressive social institutions and its straightforward didacticism were criticized by some. But each serial part sold well and allowed Dickens to accumulate enough wealth for a contemporary to call him a “literary Croesus.”
While many of us are probably aware that Dickens’s novels were serialized when they first came out, it is still extraordinary to see these original pamphlets—their pale blue covers, thin sheets, and Victorian advertisements are highly evocative of the era.
The advertisements, in particular—the specific items, and their descriptions and illustrations—are remarkable. The advertisements were for Dickens’s books as well as other authors’ and from other publications, but also for a variety of merchandise that included, among others, the following: waterproof garments (“No umbrella required”!); a variety of hair products, including an actual head of hair; skin ointment (“These medicines excel all others in the cure of scrofula or king’s evil, glandular and other unnatural swellings, scurvy, leprosy, and all diseases of the skin.”); frocks, coats, and pelisses; cloaks, hoods, hats, and bonnets; Parr’s Life Pills (“They mildly and speedily remove all Skin Eruptions, Sallowness of Complexion, Nervous Irritability, Sick Head-Ache, Depression of Spirits, Irregularity, or general derangement of the system.”); chrystal spectacles and cough jujube lozenges; life insurance policies and loans; Rimmel’s toilet vinegar; a chest expander; pulmonic wafers that will give “perfect freedom from coughs in ten minutes”; shawls and needles and “papier mache elegancies”; mourning outfits; a self-acting pipe tube which is a “novelty in smoking”; wools and parasols.
An article published in 1970 argues that reading Bleak House as a novel, “all at once from cover to cover,” is a misreading, that serialization was essential to Dickens’s art, that “the slow, deliberate pace of publication, and the suspense which the monthly interruption of the narrative naturally aroused,” is vital to understanding its artistry and implications.
A slow and deliberate pace. The suspense of monthly interruptions. Living as we do in a world in which we can binge-watch one whole season of a show on a single afternoon, it is, for most of us, an effort to read Bleak House as a novel “all at once from cover to cover” and it is difficult to imagine reading it as a serial in the course of a year and a half.
These first edition pamphlets are powerful aids for us to envision a different way of reading and entertainment, a different way of engaging with our imagination, perhaps even a different way of relating to time.
The archival collection of influential cross-media artist Barbara Rosenthal ’75, “Old Master of New Media,” has been acquired by Queens College CUNY in a combined sale and donation facilitated by a generous patron. The artist’s materials are being organized and transported in stages to the newly renovated Pine Tree Foundation Special Collections within the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library.
Born in the Bronx, Barbara Rosenthal—no relation to the library’s namesake—studied at numerous local institutions, including the Arts Students League of New York and New York University, before completing a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At Queens College, she earned an MFA in painting. In the decades since she graduated, she built up an international career, holding solo exhibitions and residencies across North America and Europe and winning acclaim for her distinctive photography, installations, and performance art.
“Barbara Rosenthal’s lifetime of record-keeping, notes, drafts, versions, and materials for every project in many media, plus household and moment-to-moment life-recording and professional correspondences, holds enormous value for current and future generations of artists and researchers,” said Annie Tummino, Head of Special Collections and Archives. “Her archives are revelatory of the creative process in ways unique among our archival collections.”
Watch Rosenthal speak about her work, archival collection, and the acquisition here:
Welcome to the inaugural post of the new monthly series, “Treasures from Special Collections and Archives.” This series will initially feature items from the Rare Books and Print History Collections of the Department of Special Collections and Archives (SCA) but will eventually expand to feature items from other important collections held by the department.
To inaugurate the series, we are proud to announce that the SCA holds two copies of the first American edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. According to Blanck’s Bibliography of American Literature, there have been three printings of the first edition of this American classic. The two copies in the SCA are most likely from different printings because, while they have the same publication date, the two books are paginated differently.
A nearly fine copy of the first American edition is listed on AbeBooks for $45,000 and very good condition copies are listed for $12,000 to $15,000. The two copies at the SCA have been exposed to moisture and mold but have been professionally cleaned and are now in stable condition, thanks to the generosity of Shirley Klein, a lifelong bibliophile and loyal friend of Queens College. Both have the original blue cloth covers with gold-stamped stars and lovely illustrations. Over the longer term, the department hopes to acquire funding to repair the bindings and small tears in the volumes.
The first edition of this American classic came out in London first. It was published by Chatto and Windus and came out in June 1876. The American edition, published by the American Publishing Company, came out in December 1876. Between these two official editions, a pirated edition from Canada was published in July 1876. The case of the English edition is covered in red cloth instead of the blue cloth of the American edition and is considered rarer and more valuable. Biblioctopus sold a nearly fine copy for $60,000, and the Bodleian Libraries happily announced in 2012 that their copy, previously uncatalogued because it probably “slipped in the stack shelves,” was found during a move of library collections.
Remarkably enough, the original and complete manuscript of the novel, in Twain’s own handwriting and with his various erasures and emendations, has been preserved in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at Georgetown University. Also called a holographic manuscript, it was the manuscript that Twain submitted for the typesetting of the American first edition and that he seemed to have allowed Elisha P. Bliss, the president of the American Publishing Company at the time, to keep after the publication of his novel. This manuscript was also exhibited at the MOMA in 1937.
The SCA also has one copy of the first American edition of the other Twain classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a post about that treasure will be forthcoming in this series. All three of Twain’s first editions in the stewardship of the SCA are originally from a Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library Rare Book Collection which had formerly been held on the 6th floor of the library, but had been exposed to moisture and had suffered a mold outbreak. The entire collection was recently cleaned and remediated by a vendor. Head of Special Collections and Archives Annie Tummino wrote about its triumphant return to Rosenthal Library last year.
The SCA staff is currently busy working to preserve, process, and arrange these marvelous treasures so that they may be used and enjoyed by the Queens College community.
Queens College is known for its involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, especially the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. A year earlier, a lesser known, but no less important project took place, when 16 volunteers from the Queens College Student Help Project traveled to Prince Edward County, Virginia to tutor Black children who were shut out of public schools due to massive resistance to desegregation. There, they lent support to a long struggle for equal education dating back to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 and local, student-led activism for better schools.
In this presentation, primary sources from the archives will bring to life this important history, as documented through a year-long oral history initiative made possible by the Freda S. and J. Chester Johnson Civil Rights & Social Justice Archives Fellowship Program at the Queens College Library. Initiators/alumni of the Student Help Project will also join the event for the Q and A.
ANNIE TUMMINO is an assistant professor and head of Special Collections and Archives at the Queens College Library, where she manages over 5,000 linear feet of college records, personal papers, and rare books. She is particularly interested in preserving the social movement history of Queens College and connecting it to today’s activists and students. She received a master’s in library and information studies from Queens College in 2010 and a master’s in maritime studies from SUNY Maritime College in 2020.
VICTORIA FERNANDEZ is the museum coordinator at the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College CUNY, where she helps develop and revise exhibition content, instruct student programming, manage library and archival collections, and facilitate interactions with their Holocaust survivor support group. She graduated from Queens College in 2021 with a dual master’s degree in history and library science (MLS/MA) after receiving a BA in history and political science from the Macaulay Honors College at QC in 2018. She has held several positions within the field of archives, most recently serving as the 2020– 2021 Freda S. and J. Chester Johnson Civil Rights and Social Justice Archives Fellow at the Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives.
Sponsored by the Office of Institutional Advancement
Timely, online programming presented by the Queens College Library’s Special Collections and Archives in Collaboration with Queens Memory.
Scroll down to view the live stream recordings of each event.
Art and Archives: Creativity During COVID-19
Tuesday November 16 from 4:00pm-5:30pm
How do art and archives intersect? In this roundtable discussion, participants will discuss creative projects undertaken during COVID-19, and their connections to primary sources and archival repositories. Livestreamed on https://www.facebook.com/queensmemory.
Chair:Annie Tummino, Assistant Professor, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Queens College
Edisa Weeks, Director of DELIRIOUS Dances and Acting Chair of the Queens College Department of Drama, Theatre & Dance;
Members of the What Will the Neighbors Say? Investigative Theatre Company, Artists-In-Residence at Queens College;
Joyce LeeAnn, Certified Archivist, Interdisciplinary Artist, and founder of Archival Alchemy®.
Co-sponsored by the Kupferberg Center for the Arts, the Queens College Department of Drama, Theater, and Dance, and Social Practice CUNY.
Surviving & Thriving: Black and Latinx Faculty, Staff, and Students on Campus
Tuesday, October 19th from 4:00pm-5:30pm
What does it take for Black and Latinx faculty, staff, and students to not only survive but thrive in higher education? Join us for a roundtable discussion and presentation of oral history clips from the archives. Livestreamed on https://www.facebook.com/queensmemory.
Co-sponsored by the Queens College SEEK Program and Black Latinx Faculty Staff Association.
Chair: Obden Mondesir, Associate Director, Barnard Archives and Adjunct Instructor in the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies.
Norka Blackman-Richards, Director of the Queens College Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program;
Marco Navarro, Lecturer in English and Director of The Writing Center, Queens College;
Nathaniel Smith, Director of NYC Men Teach at The City University of New York, Queens College.
Jessica Alejandro, Queens College Graduate student majoring in Special Education 1-6
Documenting a Pandemic: What We’ve Learned
Tuesday, October 5th from 4:00pm-5:30pm
Members of the Queens Memory Project will discuss lessons from the COVID-19 Project, and how they worked together as a team to incorporate the diverse voices of our borough and campus into the archives during this momentous period in history. Livestreamed on https://www.facebook.com/queensmemory.
Chair:Annie Tummino, Assistant Professor, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Queens College
Meral Agish, Queens Memory Community Coordinator;
Obden Mondesir, Associate Director of the Barnard Archives and Adjunct Instructor, Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies;
Dacia Metes, Queens Public Library Digital Archives Manager;
Jo-Ann Wong, Librarian, Queens Public Library, Hunters Point.
Wondering what Special Collections and Archives (SCA) has been up to during the pandemic? Check out our recorded lighting round for the New York Archives Conference, “Disruption, Transition, Adaptation: Archivists Working Under COVID-19” featuring staff, interns, and fellows associated with the department over the last year and a half. I’m very proud of our work during this time, as well as how we supported each other as a team.
On March 7, 2021, Annie Tummino, Head of Special Collections & Archives at Queens College Library, was interviewed by LuLu Garcia-Navarro on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday to discuss the Queens College COVID-19 Collection, which is a part of the Queens Memory COVID-19 Project. Tummino is a part of a collaborative effort in community archiving that includes Queens College Library, Queens Memory, and Queens Public Library.
The interview focused on the amazing work that archivists do to preserve our experiences and memories of this time. It goes into the work of Tummino’s team in collecting the stories of COVID-19, documenting the digital artifacts (videos, oral histories, images, documents, etc.), and preserving them for the future so that there is a record of today’s experience during the global pandemic. As Tummino puts it, “the role of archivists is not only to preserve old records but also to figure out what’s happening in the world today that researchers and community members will want to be able to study and understand in the future.”
Queens College Library is proud to launch a new digital platform for its Special Collections and Archives in partnership with the JSTOR Open Community Collections initiative. The site launches with close to 700 digital objects from our civil right collections, institutional archives, and rare books and manuscripts. The content is openly accessible on the web through JSTOR, a scholarly database used by more than 81 million scholars and students across 170 countries and territories every year.
Working remotely this fall, Special Collections and Archives staff will catalog and upload hundreds of additional items to the site. Intern Kuba Pieczarski (funded by the Félix V. Matos Rodríguez Internship Fund) is expanding the new COVID-19 Collection documenting the experience of the Queens College community during the pandemic; Graduate Fellow Victoria Fernandez (funded by the Freda S. and J. Chester Johnson Endowment) is working with civil rights movement materials; and Archives Assistant and recent GSLIS graduate Caitlin Waldron is posting images of the campus through the decades.
The collections benefit from JSTOR’s features and interface, including full-text search; citation management tools; filtering and faceting; content download; and sharing. Make sure to check out the site at https://www.jstor.org/site/queenscollegearchives/, including the Silhouette yearbook form 1941-2011; original photographs documenting the involvement of Queens College students in the Civil Rights Movement of the early to mid 1960s; rare manuscripts from our “Pages from the Past” collection; and the scrapbooks of Dr. Andrew Greller, Professor Emeritus of Biology.
Queens College Library is proud to announce that Jeanie Pai, who served as a Graduate Fellow in Special Collections and Archives over the 2019-2020 academic year, is the 2020 recipient of the Donald Peterson Student Travel Award given by the Society of American Archivists (SAA). As announced by SAA:
Established in 2005, the Donald Peterson Student Travel Award supports students and recent graduates from graduate archival programs within North America to attend SAA’s Annual Meeting. The goal of the scholarship is to stimulate greater participation in the activities of SAA, such as presenting research or actively participating in an SAA-sponsored committee or section.
Pai is a recent graduate of the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Her SAA poster presentation is entitled, Paper Sons of the Chinese Exclusion Era. It describes her research into the history and experiences of paper sons, and how they contributed to the shaping of Chinese American communities. Her interests lie in emerging issues of inclusion and access, particularly toward resources for disadvantaged groups that are historically misrepresented. She is committed to recognizing the gaps in collections, and exploring honest ways to preserve the history of marginalized groups, including what archival materials to collect, how it is described, and who has access to the records. Pai’s belief is that active inclusion allows archivists to create democratic spaces where people of all backgrounds have agency and representation.
A supporter of Pai states, “She is genuinely motivated by the core values of social justice, ethics, inclusion, and access and will continue to be guided by them in her career.”
Pai is pictured (right) with Archives Fellow Tom Gubernat at the Memory Lab Bootcamp in Washington DC in January 2020. Pai and Gubernat’s Archives Fellowships in the Queens College LIbrary were funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.