“Good Cakes Like Us Are Baked With Care and Royal Baking Powder!” (Item of the Month)

By Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Some of the most engaging materials in the cookery collection of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library are late 19th and early 20th century advertising pamphlets. Small books of recipes, histories of coffee, tea, spices, and other foods, and brochures touting the health benefits of one product or another offer a window into the changing tastes of the American public, new innovations in the mass production of foods, and the development of mass market advertising. A number of these pamphlets came to us as part of NYAM Fellow Margaret Barclay Wilson’s collection of books on food and cookery, donated to the library in 1929.

RoyalBakingPowderCo_TheLittleGingerbreadMan_1923_cover_watermarkOne charming example is The Little Gingerbread Man, published in 1923 by the Royal Baking Powder Company, located at 108 East 42nd Street in New York. Written in rhyme, the pamphlet tells the story of the land of Jalapomp, where baking has been declared illegal because of the ineptitude of the cook. Poor Princess Posy, whose birthday is approaching, worries that she won’t have a cake. Alerted to the sad state of affairs by a little Flour Fairy, the Queen of Flour Folk sends Johnny Gingerbread and his friends off in a chocolate plane to save the day. Toting a tin of Royal Baking Powder and a copy of the New Royal Cook Book for the cook, the fragrant baked treats convince the king that baking powder and new recipes will set things right before they head back home to Cookery Land.

A tin of Royal Baking Powder features prominently in most of the pamphlet’s illustrations, and the cookbook appears as well. You, too, can try your hand at making some of the Royal treats, as almost every page also contains a recipe for baked goods, including one for gingerbread men. Readers of the pamphlet (or their mothers, since the book itself was clearly meant for children) could obtain free copies of the New Royal Cook Book by writing to the company as instructed on the final page of the story.

Although she is uncredited, the author of the pamphlet was probably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote more than 20 volumes of the Oz series, a continuation the stories told in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many sequels. The illustrations are attributed to Charles J. Coll.

Click the images to read the full pamphlet:

The Bookplates of Medical Men (Item of the Month)

By Erin Albritton, Head of Conservation, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

Book owners have forever endeavored to find ways to identify volumes as their own. With the invention of the printing press, however, books became more plentiful and an owner’s need to identify his or her own copy even more pressing. The earliest examples of printed bookplates (also known as ex-libris) come from Germany and date to the 15th century, just as printing began to take off in Europe. Over the following centuries, the use of bookplates became widespread throughout Europe and eventually followed colonists to America.1

In the summer of 2014, conservators in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory began treating three scrapbooks containing 184 bookplates.2 Frank Place, Jr., NYAM’s reference librarian from 1905 to 1945, collected them and donated the books to the library sometime in the mid-20th century. In compiling his collection, Mr. Place mounted the bookplates onto recycled paper pamphlet covers (measuring approximately 5.25” x 8”) and stored them alphabetically in two-ring binders,3 which were actively damaging the plates’ fragile paper supports and making it difficult to use the collection.

Binder showing ring mechanism and resulting damage to paper supports.

Binder showing ring mechanism and resulting damage to paper supports.

Example of pamphlet cover Mr. Place reused as a support for his bookplates.

Example of pamphlet cover Mr. Place reused as a support for his bookplates.

To remedy these issues and minimize the risk of future damage, conservators modified the binders while retaining as much of the original binding structure as possible, replacing the ring mechanisms with fixed posts and hinging the paper supports onto stubs.

Top: Volume 3, before treatment, in its original ring binder. Bottom: Volume 1, after treatment, in a modified post binding with hinged plates.

Top: Volume 3, before treatment, in its original ring binder. Bottom: Volume 1, after treatment, in a modified post binding with hinged plates.

Before and after binder modification.

Before and after binder modification.

Because the original binder spine pieces were too big for the modified structures, conservators encapsulated the pieces in Mylar and affixed them to protective four-flap enclosures.

Mylar-spine wrappers with encapsulated original spine pieces.

Mylar-spine wrappers with encapsulated original spine pieces.

Mr. Place’s charming collection in NYAM’s library offers a window into what some scholars have referred to as the “golden age of bookplate enthusiasm,”4 which spanned from the end of the 19th century through the first decades of the 20th century. During this time, societies for the collection and exchange of ex-libris sprang up across Europe and the United States. Collectors prized plates for their aesthetic value as miniature pieces of art and often acquired them, not for use in identifying their books, but for the sole purpose of organizing, exhibiting, and exchanging them with others. Many collectors limited their acquisitions to bookplates representing a particular theme and, here, it is no surprise that Mr. Place specialized in the plates of medical practitioners and institutions. Correspondence (included in the scrapbooks) between Mr. Place and other collectors (specifically H. M. Barlow, secretary at the Royal College of Physicians, and Dr. Henry de Forest, a prominent New York physician5) indicates that he was not only interested in growing NYAM’s collection but, in the spirit of the times, was also an active contributor to the collections of others.

While small by comparison to other collections, Mr. Place’s scrapbooks offer some wonderful examples of the broad ranging sizes and styles of bookplates—from modest ornamental name labels:

Ornamental name labels of (left) Samuel Smith Purple, MD and (right) Robert Latou Dickinson, MD.

Ornamental name labels of (left) Samuel Smith Purple, MD and (right) Robert Latou Dickinson, MD.

to elaborately illustrated panels, depicting anything from coats of arms to the owner’s occupation and hobbies. Not surprisingly, in the case of medical bookplates, images such as Hippocrates, microscopes, and the caduceus, along with skeletons, skulls, and beakers tend to figure prominently.

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NewYorkAcademyOfMedicine_watermarkIt is a pity we do not know whether, in addition to collecting, Mr. Place ever commissioned his own miniature work of art to grace the inside covers of his personal volumes. Thanks to a bookplate, however, we are forever reminded of his contribution of this delightful little collection to NYAM’s library.

Treatment of the third and final scrapbook is in process and the entire collection will be available for use in early 2015. In the meantime, a list of all 184 bookplates can be obtained by contacting history@nyam.org or calling 212-822-7313.



1. The oldest known American bookplate dates to 1679 and takes the form of a simple label indicating the owner’s name. Curtin, R. G. (1910). “The Book-Plates of Physicians, with Remarks on the Physician’s Leisure-Hour ‘Hobbies’.” Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. (Reprinted from International Clinics, Vol. II, 20th Series), p. 239.

2. Thanks to Saira Haqqi, 2014 Gladys Brooks Book Conservation Intern, for her work conserving volume 2 of this collection.

3. In an address to the Historical Section of the Philadelphia College of Physicians on November 22, 1907, physician and bookplate collector Roland G. Curtin advises collectors to hinge their plates onto paper cards (measuring 7.5” x 9.5”) and to keep the cards loose, thus enabling the inspection of the backside of plates as well as the display of single plates without endangering the entire collection. Ibid. 253. It seems likely that Mr. Place read Dr. Curtin’s address (a reprint, cited above, was accessioned into NYAM’s collection in 1910) and was endeavoring to follow this advice when arranging his own collection.

4. Pincott, A. “American Bookplates.” Rev. of American Bookplates by W.E. Butler. Print Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sept. 2001), p. 351. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41826267.

5. See blog post by Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for NYAM’s Historical Collections, discussing a bookplate and correspondence from Dr. Henry de Forest: https://nyamcenterforhistory.org/2013/03/06/biblioclasts-bibliosnitches-beware/.

The NYAM Lectures: Medical Talks by Eminent Speakers (Items of the Month)

By Latrina Keith, Head of Cataloging

WNYC-LogoThe New York Academy of Medicine and New York Public Radio (NYPR) have digitized and cataloged some 40 radio broadcasts produced by NYAM and originally broadcast over WNYC radio in the 1950s. These lectures are drawn from the more than 1,500 original lacquer discs transferred from NYAM to the NYPR Archives in 2008. The digitization and cataloging resulted from a joint project between NYAM’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health and the New York Public Radio (NYPR) Archives, and with a grant from METRO, the New York Metropolitan Library Council.

The New York Academy of Medicine and WNYC-FM began their radio relationship in 1946 with the launch of The Laity Lectures—later to become Lectures to the Laity—a popular series of Academy lectures and talks on culture and medicine that had started in 1935. By mid-1950, this series was joined by For Doctors Only, which aimed to bring “the best of the meetings, conferences, and roundtable discussions held at the academy” to the medical profession and also addressed critical analysis of issues of society and medicine, as well as the application of the social sciences to medicine, and provided academic presentations in the history of medicine.

The current periodicals room of the New York Academy of Medicine Library, circa ____.

The current periodicals room of the New York Academy of Medicine Library, photographed by Irving Underhill, 1872-1960.

Lecture topics include gerontology, aging, nutrition, cancer, public health, heart disease, dermatology, psychiatry, and the role of the physician and the law, among others. Along with such informative topics, there were notable guest lecturers such as American anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ralph Linton; Dr. Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy and pediatric pathology; noted gerontologist Dr. John Steele Murray; and Dr. Leona Baumgartner, the first female commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health from 1954-1962. Baumgartner will be the focus of the upcoming Iago Galdston Lecture, “Making Public Health Contagious: The Life & Career of Leona Baumgartner, MD, PhD” to be presented by Dr. Hilary Aquino on December 4, 2014 at NYAM.

Making these historical hidden treasures available to all is a great achievement for both NYAM and NYPR. We hope that one day the entire radio broadcasts will be restored for the educational and cultural benefit of all.

A Lifetime of Healthiness? The Golden Health Library’s “Seven Ages of Man” (Item of the Month)

Cara Kiernan Fallon, this post’s guest author, is a history of science PhD candidate at Harvard University.

"The seven ages of man." From The Golden Health Library.

“The seven ages of man.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

Childhood can be full of “vigor and zest” but “Middle age is the time when our sins against the laws of health find us out,” warned physicians writing for The Golden Health Library’s inaugural volume. Published in the late 1930s, The Golden Health Library offered readers five volumes of advice on the “principles of right living” so they could secure health throughout their lifespans.1 Authors included physicians, nurses, professors, and even birth control advocates like Margaret Sanger. September, Healthy Aging Month, is the perfect time to revisit this publication.

Part of the New York Academy of Medicine’s extensive collection of health guides, public health pamphlets, and medical magazines, The Golden Health Library highlights the growing health concerns associated with longer lives and an emerging notion of the elasticity of health in later life. Although originally published in the United Kingdom, people on both sides of the Atlantic expressed concerns over health into old age as they were living longer than ever before. Between 1901 and 1931, the population over age 65 nearly doubled from 1.8 to 3.5 million in the United Kingdom, and went from 3 million to 6.6 million in the United States.2 Life expectancy at birth, a figure largely affected by infant and childhood mortality, grew dramatically along with the expanding older population. With more people surviving childhood and living decades longer, a new wave of health concerns—and health advice—came with it.

"Healthy womanhood." From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

“Healthy womanhood.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

"The wrestlers." From The Golden Health Library.

“The wrestlers.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

In a section directly addressing health throughout the life course—“The Seven Ages of Man”—The Golden Health Library provided a series of articles on maintaining health in each of seven stages of life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, middle age, elderly age, and old age. Physicians identified “the elderly age” as a “very elastic” time between middle age and old age (87). Rather than following an arc of growth to decline, “The Seven Ages of Man” presented the elderly age as an expandable period of potential health, one determined by physical condition rather than a particular chronological period. Men who followed the rules of health and hygiene, and who had “lived wisely…may feel justified in expecting to live for the full period of life free from disease… and to die of old age” (88). Moderate diet, exercise, rest, and regular medical examinations would also ensure a “healthy elderly age for all women—the best antidote to old age” (91).

"On skis at 63." From The Golden Health Library.

“On skis at 63.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

The idea of a healthy and elastic elderly age reflected important new concepts emerging in the 20th century. As people around the globe reached sixty, seventy, and eighty years of age in quantities never before seen, later life became a period of great diversity in physical, mental, social, and economic conditions. Readers were told that the “vigour and ability to do physical or mental work efficiently varies enormously in different people” but the “idea that advanced age in man must necessarily involve an arm-chair existence…is obsolete” (87, 89). Instead, it argued that “men are now never too old to lead an active life” (89). To demonstrate this new ideal, images of athleticism filled the pages of the elderly age. Fitness guru J. P. Muller was shown skiing in his undergarments at 63, and Lord Balfour was shown swinging for a tennis ball at the age of 80, both depicting the possibilities of health and vigor.

"Lord Balfour at eighty." From The Golden Health Library.

“Lord Balfour at eighty.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

Yet, the mid-century concept of a healthy elderly age also narrowly imagined health through a masculine body with physical freedom and strength. Despite women’s greater longevity—the article reminded readers that women lived on average five years longer than men at the time—the article offered no images of women living actively in the elderly age. Could no women be found to depict an ideal of healthy aging? Or did notions of health and age have different meanings for women than for men? Women may have been told they could achieve a healthy elderly age, but none could be found in these pages.

While the idea of healthy habits leading to a healthy older age offered a new optimism for the aging process, it also overlooked the powerful social and cultural influences on the biology, ability, and mobility of individuals. Recommendations throughout the lifespan for clean milk, sunny outdoor play, access to healthy foods, exercise, and regular physical exams reflected not merely physiological processes but more complex social and economic opportunities. Although the authors indicated that health throughout life was a matter of willpower, they acknowledged that few reached a disease-free old age. Were the ideals too lofty or were the challenges too great? Had their model failed to account for the complexities of health beyond a controllable regimen?

"A fine old age." From The Golden Health Library.

“A fine old age.” From The Golden Health Library. Click to enlarge.

“The Seven Ages of Man” offers an intriguing look into the early notions of healthy aging in the mid-20th century. While it responded to the growing population of older individuals, offering opportunities for self-determination and responsibility, it also reduced healthy aging to a matter of knowledge, willpower, and habit.

Decades later, efforts to improve the quality of life of older individuals continue to grow with the expanding population. Through its healthy aging initiatives and participation in Age-friendly NYC, the New York Academy of Medicine aims to address not only the physical components of aging but also issues of employment, housing, social inclusion, community health services, and many other social, psychological, and economic concerns for seniors. Looking back to The Golden Health Library allows us to explore the formative stages of important themes today – the growing belief in the elasticity of later life, the new emphasis on “healthy” and “active” aging, and the changing understandings of the powerful social and cultural influences on biology.


1. Browning, E., Stanford Read, C., Williams, L. L.B., Crawford, B. G. R., Arbuthnot Lane, W., Somerville, G. (193?). The seven ages of man. In W. Arbuthnot Lane (Ed.), The golden health library (pp. 48–96). London: William Collins Sons & Co. All parenthetical page numbers refer to this publication.

2. For the United Kingdom, see the Office for National Vital Statistics, Chapter 15 Population: Age distribution of the resident population, 15.3(a). For the United States, see the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics System, Population by Age 1900 to 2002, No. HS-3.

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (Item of the Month)

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

The title page of Hooke's Micrographia.

The title page of Hooke’s Micrographia.

Robert Hooke was born on July 28 (O.S. July 18), 1635. To commemorate his birthday, we are featuring his book Micrographia as July’s item of the month.

Hooke published Micrographia in 1665 when he was 30 years old. At the time, Hooke was the curator of experiments for the Royal Society of London, which involved conducting several experiments a week and presenting them to the society. Hooke made many of the observations found in Micrographia through his activities for the society, and the Royal Society commissioned and printed the book.1

An extraordinary work, Micrographia details Hooke’s observations on objects as varied as the point of a needle, a louse, and the moon (he also utilized telescopes). The book includes 38 copperplate engravings of microscopic views based on Hooke’s drawings. Micrographia was not the first book of microscopic observations, but it was more successful and accessible than its predecessors. Who wouldn’t marvel at a close up shot of a flea?

Here is a selection of Micrographia’s plates (click to enlarge):

Fig. 1 shows a microscopic view of kettering-stone. In observation XV, Hooke notes, “We may here find a Stone by the help of a Microscope, to be made up of abundance of small Balls…and yet there being so many contacts, they make a firm hard mass…”

Fig. 1 shows a microscopic view of kettering-stone. In observation XV, Hooke notes, “We may here find a Stone by the help of a Microscope, to be made up of abundance of small Balls…and yet there being so many contacts, they make a firm hard mass…”

In his observation on cork, Hooke compared its structure to that of honeycomb and. He discovered plant cells, “which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps that were ever seen…,” and coined the term “cell.”

In his observation on cork, Hooke compared its structure to that of honeycomb. He discovered plant cells, “which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps that were ever seen…,” and coined the term “cell.”

For observation XXXIV, Hooke examined the eyes and head of grey drone-fly.

For observation XXXIV, Hooke examined the eyes and head of grey drone-fly.

Hooke seemed enamored with the white feather-winged moth, calling it a “pretty insect” and “a lovely object both to the naked Eye, and through a Microscope.”

Hooke seemed enamored with the white feather-winged moth, calling it a “pretty insect” and “a lovely object both to the naked Eye, and through a Microscope.”

The flea is one of several fold-out plates in the book. Again, Hooke has a scientist’s appreciation for the insect, commenting equally on its strength and beauty. He is particularly fascinated with the anatomy of its legs and joints, which “are so adapted, that he can…fold them short within another, and suddenly stretch, or spring them out to their whole length.”

The flea is one of several fold-out plates in the book. Again, Hooke has a scientist’s appreciation for the insect, commenting equally on its strength and beauty. He is particularly fascinated with the anatomy of its legs and joints, which “are so adapted, that he can…fold them short within another, and suddenly stretch, or spring them out to their whole length.”

In the last observations, Hooke turned his attention to celestial bodies. His study of the moon lead him to believe it might be covered in vegetation. He thought the hills seen in Fig. 2 “may be covered with so thin a vegetable Coat, as we may observe the Hills with us to be, such as the short Sheep pasture which covers the Hills of Salisbury Plains.”

In the last observations, Hooke turned his attention to celestial bodies. His study of the moon led him to surmise that the hills seen in Fig. 2 “may be covered with so thin a vegetable Coat, as we may observe the Hills with us to be, such as the short Sheep pasture which covers the Hills of Salisbury Plains.”

The National Library of Medicine’s Turning the Pages project has a selection of images from Micrographia available. It is well worth flipping through; you’ll find curator’s notes and you can even open the folded plates. If you are interested in looking at Micrographia in its entirety, contact us at history@nyam.org or 212-822-7313 to make an appointment.

1. Espinasee, Margaret. Robert Hooke. London: Heinemann, [1956].

A Gallery of Gauzy Wings (Item of the Month)

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Plate 8: Ephemera rupestris, the Rock Day Fly. Click to enlarge.

Plate 8: Ephemera rupestris, the rock day fly. Click to enlarge.

As we head into full summer, it seems appropriate to take a look at one of our many natural history books for this item of the month. Anyone who spends time outside at this time of year encounters insect life of many kinds.

While we mostly tend to avoid the bugs we encounter, many 18th century naturalists found them enticing subjects of study. John Hill (1714?-1775), the author of the charming A Decade of Curious Insects (1773), was no exception. Hill was an English apothecary and botanist with frustrated literary and theatrical aspirations. He also had a medical degree from the University of St. Andrews, but whether he actually studied to become a physician or just purchased the degree is unclear. He worked as an apothecary and created and dispensed many herbal remedies. He is most remembered now for his various botanical works, including the British Herbal (1756), a series of popular herbal medicine treatises, and the 26-volume Vegetable System (1759-1775).1,2

Hill_Title Page_watermark

Title page of A Decade of Curious Insects. Click to enlarge.

Hill had a longstanding interest in microscopic observation and revised an English translation of Jan Swammerdam’s heavily illustrated Book of Nature, or the History of Insects in 1758. In the little work that is the subject of this post, however, he made the observations himself, using a lucernal microscope probably much like the one pictured here.

All ten engravings in our copy are hand colored, although the illustrations could also be purchased separately and painted for personal education or enjoyment. As the verso of the title page notes, “Ladies who may chuse to paint these Insects themselves may have Sets of the Cuts on Royal Paper printed pale for that purpose.”

The text provides detailed descriptions of each insect, with particular attention paid to the colors of individual body parts. Sometimes Hill also offers his observations on their habits. Day-Flies, for example, “are an inoffensive race; born to pass thro’ their little stage of being, the prey to a thousand enemies; but hurtful to no creature.”

Plate 7, Ephemera culiciformis, the "white wing'd day fly." Click to enlarge.

Plate 7, Ephemera culiciformis, the “White Wing’d Day Fly.” Click to enlarge.

The Savages, Sphex and Sphex Spirifex, attack other insects with an unmatched intensity. In the case of the Comb-Footed Savage, “The number of other Insects these destroy, is scarce to be conceiv’d ; the mouth of their cave is like a Giant’s of old in romance ; strew’d with the remains of prey… he will kill fifty for a meal.”

Plate 3, Sphex pectinipes, the comb footed savage. Click to enlarge.

Plate 3, Sphex pectinipes, the comb footed savage. Click to enlarge.

A warning, though, that anyone who enjoys inhaling the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers might be in for a dreadful surprise if the either the Straw-Colour’d or the Tawny Chinch lurks inside. According to Hill, a gentleman who suffered from headaches sneezed onto a sheet of paper one day, and a microscopical examination of the “moving particles” revealed them to be Straw-Colour’d Chinches.

Plate 9, Allucita Pallida, "The Straw-colour'd Chinch."

Plate 9, Allucita Pallida, “The Straw-colour’d Chinch.”

Hill noted that both chinches inhabit a variety of popular flowers. “Many have this pain [headache] from the smell of Flowers,” he writes. “Some have been found dead, with quantities of violets, and other Flowers, in their chamber. Physicians have attributed these deaths to the powerful odour of those Flowers; but that they should be owing to these creatures, is much more probable.”

Plate 10, Allucita fulva, the tawny chinch.

Plate 10, Allucita fulva, the tawny chinch.

Perhaps you should think twice the next time you stop to smell the roses, just in case.

The book’s illustrations are too lovely not to share. Here are the remainder (click an image to view the gallery).

1. Barker, G. F. R. (1891). Hill, John (1716?-1775). In Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, volume 26. London: Smith, Elder & Co. Retrieved from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Hill,_John_%281716%3F-1775%29_%28DNB00%29

2. Gerstner, P. A. (1972). Hill, John. In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume VI. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Preservation Enclosures 101 (Items of the Month)

By Christina Amato, Book Conservator, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

How simple is a box?

It is often overlooked, but creating appropriate enclosures, or housing, for collection materials is an important part of the work of a library conservation lab. A well made box can have a huge impact on the longevity of a book. Conservators have to weigh many factors when deciding what kind of enclosure is appropriate to use. When is a clamshell box the best choice, and when would a phase box be better? Scroll down to see some examples of typical enclosures made at the Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory.

First, the clamshell box. This type of enclosure is one of the most traditional you will find in a library. Each one is custom made for each book. They provide an enormous amount of protection to the book, and can be very attractive. However, they are quite time consuming to make, and add to the width of the book. For one or two books, this may not be significant, but for a large collection, and if you have limited shelf space, it can become an issue.


Three books in clamshell boxes, left. An open box, right.

Consider the pamphlets below, which are housed in brittle and crumbling old folders. They no longer provide adequate protection to the material inside, and in some cases are actively causing damage. Clearly, new enclosures are needed. However, there are thousands of these pamphlets in the collection, and it would be impractical to create clamshell boxes for each one.


Pamphlets in need of new housing.

Enter the phase box, or wrapper. These are constructed out of a thin cardstock and take up much less room on a shelf than a clamshell box. They also take a fraction of the time to complete, though each is also custom made for the material within.


Phase boxes.

Phase boxes are a good solution for this kind of collection. However . . . are there any downsides to having rows and rows of items that look like this?

Rows of phase boxes.

Rows of phase boxes.

What if your collection looks like this?

A shelf with visible spines.

A shelf of books with visible spines.

Conservators at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, developed a “visible spine phase box” similar to a traditional phase box, but which incorporates a clear piece of Mylar. This way, you can see what is inside the enclosure. Not only can this be more appealing visually than a row of undifferentiated cardstock, but it can be useful in monitoring the condition of a book. And, of course, it is immediately obvious if the box’s tenant has gone missing!

Books in visible spine phase boxes.

Books in visible spine phase boxes.

Occasionally, an item will enter the lab that doesn’t fit into any of the usual categories. Below is a Sinhalese “Ola,” or a palm-leaf manuscript, written in 1720. The mailer bag it arrived in doesn’t quite meet the standards for an adequate enclosure.

An ola in a mailer bag.

An Ola in a mailer bag.

Our solution was to make a modified clamshell box; the sides are cut away so that it is easy to reach in and safely remove the item; the cover is built up to provide room for the protruding button and string on the cover; and the sides are covered with a smooth Tyvek to protect the fragile palm leaf edges.

An Ola in a modified clamshell box.

An Ola in a modified clamshell box.

If you have an entire box full of Olas that require re-housing, however, like the unfortunate ones below, that may prove to be too time consuming.

Many unfortunate Olas in need of rehousing.

Many unfortunate Olas in need of rehousing.

The solution here was to modify a commercially made enclosure with separate compartments made out of Valera foam. Each piece is protected, and using a pre-made, standard sized box saved time.

Olas in a modified commercially made enclosure.

Olas in a modified commercially made enclosure.

These are just a few of the typical sorts of enclosures you will encounter in a library. Labs will often make their own modifications and improvements. Whether it be simple or very complex, the box plays a crucial role in preserving fragile materials.

Marijuana Regulation: The LaGuardia Report at 70 (Item of the Month)

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Medical and recreational marijuana regulation is undergoing a sea change right now, the reworking of a drug regulation regime that goes back at least 75 years. Debates about the drug are not new, however; the New York Academy of Medicine found itself in the middle of the political discussion back in the 1930s and 40s and is now taking a look at this history.

For a hundred years, from the published attestation of the medical use of Cannabis by William Brooke O’Shaughnessy in 1839, medical marijuana use increased and came more and more under medical regulation.  Discussions around regulation usually sounded two concerns: first, that the material be unadulterated and eventually physician-prescribed, and second, that potential benefits could be seen to outweigh harms. For from the beginning, many demonized marijuana use; early on, some went so far as to lump it in with opiates and their abuse.

By 1930, the United States established the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with increased central control as the goal and Harry J. Anslinger as the willing head. In 1937, over the objections of the American Medical Association, he had pushed through the Marihuana Tax Act. An indirect means of control—as the state governments had most authority to control medicine and drugs directly—it was in fact very effective in criminalizing marijuana. Imposing annual licensing fees on producers and prescribers, it also called for a transfer fee of $1.00 per ounce to registered users, such as physicians, but $100.00 per ounce to unregistered ones—the vast majority. This tax structure was laid down in an era when average American incomes were about $2,000 a year. And indeed, $2,000 was the amount of the fine that could be imposed, along with up to five years in jail, with seizure of the drug as well. The first dealer convicted under the act received a sentence of four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary!

The title page of The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.

The title page of The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.

New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was skeptical of the reasons behind this stringent control. In 1938, he commissioned a report from the New York Academy of Medicine on marijuana use. With the study supported by the Commonwealth Fund, the Friedsam Foundation, and the New York Foundation, an expert panel of researchers considered “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York” (as their report was ultimately titled) from the viewpoint of sociology, psychology, medicine, and pharmacology. Their work continued for six years.

The report ran 220 pages, and La Guardia’s own foreword summarized the results:

I am glad that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated insofar as the City of New York is concerned. I hasten to point out, however, that the findings are to be interpreted only as a reassuring report of progress and not as encouragement to indulgence[!]

Anslinger was furious and denounced the report, and, as painstaking and factual as it was, it had little effect on marijuana decriminalization. Eventually, the Supreme Court found the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 unconstitutional on grounds of self-incrimination, in a suit raised by Timothy Leary in 1969. The next year, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which placed marijuana in Schedule I, the most highly controlled category, used for drugs that have no currently accepted medical use and are considered liable for abuse even under medical supervision. It remains there today.

On May 1 and 2, the New York Academy of Medicine, partnering with the Drug Policy Alliance, is mounting a day-and-a-half-long conference, “Marijuana & Drug Policy Reform in New York—the LaGuardia Report at 70.” Historians and drug policy experts will gather to consider the report and its effects, look at the “drug wars” over the last century, and survey the policy landscape of the near future. Please join us; the conference is free. View the full schedule and participant information. Register here.

Item of the Month: Posters from the Special Programme on AIDS, World Health Organization, 1987–1995

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

The WHO Special Programme on AIDS was the first response of the United Nations to the pandemic that had gained world attention by the mid-1980s.1 The offspring of the first two international conferences on AIDS, in Atlanta in 1985 and in Paris the following year, the Programme was founded in February 1987. The Programme’s dynamic director, Jonathan M. Mann, had great hopes and grand plans for combating AIDS through a coordinated worldwide response—the only feasible way to control the virulent and widely spreading disease, he thought. From the beginning he also saw the AIDS outbreak as a focus for engaging global human rights issues. Under Mann, the WHO moved beyond its role of technical advisor to national governments, for it tried to take a directive role, actively engage non-governmental organizations, and promote non-discriminatory policies towards AIDS sufferers. Between 1987 and 1989, the Special Programme—which also came to be known as the Global Programme on AIDS—developed a comprehensive strategy for attacking the virus.


These two posters—one design in two languages—come from the heady days of the Programme’s beginning. Produced in 1987, these posters announced its slogan, “AIDS: A worldwide effort will stop it.” The posters’ design inadvertently reveals how difficult it was to talk about AIDS in the 1980s. AIDS seemed different from other diseases. First of all, it was a pandemic experienced in the west, perhaps the first such experience since the polio epidemic in the early 1950s, and before that, the influenza pandemic in 1918–19. With the rise of antibiotics and vaccination, widespread disease outbreaks in the developed world were no longer supposed to happen! As Dr. Gerald Friedland, a doctor on the front lines during the height of the pandemic, said at an event at Columbia University earlier this month, the disease caused the “inverse of the life cycle,” as it mostly impacted young people, leading to parents burying their children. “The only thing comparable was war.”

With AIDS, neither antibiotics nor vaccination worked, so epidemiologists were forced back to classic means of halting pandemics: stopping the means of transmission. Here also AIDS proved difficult. Those means—chiefly sexual contact and sharing needles—provoked strong reactions. Coupled with a long latency and an invariably fatal outcome after a horrific decline, AIDS did not have a simple profile.

The posters display that cultural unease. The UN commissioned noted New York graphic designer Milton Glaser, an internationally known logo and poster designer, with such readily recognizable designs as “I ♡ NY,” Esquire and New York magazines, and Sony, among many others. Certainly Glaser knows about the power of images to convey meaning. For these UN posters, he combined three elements, two hearts and a skull, to make a W—presumably to stand for “world” in the World Health Organization, and to reference the caption, “A worldwide effort will stop [AIDS].” But it’s not clear—and it doesn’t work in the Spanish version of the poster. Even more puzzling is the relationship of the hearts to the skulls. Is it cautionary: in the midst of love—erotic love, that is—lurks death? Is it hopeful: compassionate hearts will combine to crush AIDS? Is it both? Glaser produced a striking image, but he also produced an ambiguous one. By 1991, the red ribbon had been introduced as the predominant AIDS symbol, and it soon the supplanted the “heart-and-skull-W,” even at the UN itself.

The year that this poster came out proved to be the Programme’s high point. In 1988 a new director-general came to the World Health Organization. AIDS could not have two masters. By late 1989, the Programme’s efforts, strategies, and budget were brought up short, and Mann departed in 1990. The Programme limped along for another five years, until replaced by UNAIDS, the locus for United Nations action today. In the words of Mann’s successor,  Michael H. Merson: the Programme “was unable to muster the necessary political will . . . , and its effectiveness was compromised by . . . an increasing preference of wealthy governments for bilateral aid programs.”2 That seems where matters stand now, as we approach World AIDS Day, December 1. The story of the Special Programme on AIDS is a cautionary tale of the difficulties of grappling with a worldwide disease in a disjointed world.


1. Much of the history of the Special Programme on AIDS is found in two article by its founding director: Jonathan M. Mann, “The World Health Organization’s global strategy for the prevention and control of AIDS,” in AIDS—A Global Perspective [Special issue] Western Journal of Medicine 1987 Dec; 147:732–734; and Jonathan M. Mann and Kathleen Kay, “Confronting the pandemic: the World Health Organization’s Global Programme on AIDS, 1986–1989,” AIDS 1991; 5 (suppl. 2): S221–S229.

2.  Michael H. Merson, “The HIV–AIDS pandemic at 25—the global response,” New England Journal of Medicine 2006; 354:2414–2417 (June 8, 2006), quotation from page 2415.

Item of the Month: “Better Babies” on Things Which Are Bad For All Babies

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

When in the stacks recently, I came across two slim issues of “Better Babies: Infant Welfare and Race Progress,” one published in December 1921 and the other in April 1924.



While the title suggests an interest in eugenics, the two issues in our collection focus solely on ways to keep babies healthy, including articles on clothes for children, playgrounds and public health, the benefits of breast feeding, and disease prevention.

This last topic inspired the following list, published in the 1924 issue. As it is (coincidentally) Baby Safety Month, it seems appropriate to share it.

Which piece of advice is your favorite?