Whether it’s a rare book printing found at long last or piece of ephemera found in an archival collection by chance, those who visit the University of Houston Special Collections almost always find something they cannot wait to share with others. Here we celebrate what makes the University of Houston Special Collections so special–our Favorite Things.
This series is intended to shine a light on some of the most prized things we find here in Special Collections. Sometimes, however, we are reminded that the most special of all aren’t the objects that reside in our stacks, but the people who walk through our doors.
Not long ago I was witness to a special treat in the reading room. Headed out to our foyer desk to greet a patron, I was somewhat surprised when I encountered an elementary school-aged child. While a family member searched the general stacks, this young girl had intrepidly set out in search of older, rarer quarry.
I thought of all the amazing rare books in our collections, and tried to come up with the perfect example to share. Just before we went into the reading room to begin viewing materials, we were joined by Pat Bozeman, Head of Special Collections. Her mind quickly went to the Book of Hours, Use of Reims as a treat worthy of such a delightful and curious patron.
Watching the young researcher excitedly encounter this book was one of my favorite moments since joining the UH Libraries. It was a pleasure to watch and listen as Pat explained how the book was made and pointed out interesting details to a completely captivated child. And the girl’s reactions were a reminder of the wonder that these fantastic holdings have the power to elicit. There are lots of great things about working in the reading room, but there isn’t much that can top a child’s sincere “wow!”
The experience not only underscored the responsibility we here in Special Collections have for preserving and making accessible our cultural heritage, but was also a reminder of just how darn lucky we are to get to do it.
The second digital issue of Houston History (Summer 2014) is on the virtual shelves and features a piece by our own Dr. Tomkins-Walsh, “From the Archives: Remembering Foley’s,” featuring research and images from the Foley’s Department Store Records.
We have written previously, lamenting the demise of a Foley’s presence, influencing and shaping Houston’s downtown, prior to the ultimate demolition of Kenneth Franzheim‘s bold design. For her part, Dr. Tomkins-Walsh addresses the demolition of that building in September of 2013 as something of a catalyst on the collective, public memory that wants not for a building, but instead represents more of a nostalgia and longing for an old figurative pillar and community partner long gone. From its origins as a dry goods store, to an early department store, through the post-war optimism reflected in the construction of Kenneth Franzheim’s icon, to the role it played in the desegregation of Houston, and on into the growth of branch stores that followed the patterns of suburban development, Tomkins-Walsh outlines in detail the symbiotic relationship that Foley’s enjoyed with the community, as well as the rich research potential the meticulous records hold across a number of fields of study.
Subscribers of Houston History may read Dr. Tomkins-Walsh’s article and the rest of the latest digital issue online at the magazine’s website. In addition, a launch party for the summer digital issue is scheduled for Tuesday, August 26th from 5:30pm to 7:00pm at the Houston Texas YMCA (5202 Griggs Rd., Houston, TX 77021). Interested in learning more about the history of Houston as seen through that huge display window on Main Street? Plan a visit to the Special Collections Reading Room and take a closer look at the Foley’s Department Store Records.
We are very happy to welcome our new Instructional Support Assistant, Lena Melinger to the team. Lena joined Special Collections last week and in her new role will work closely with Julie Grob, Coordinator for Instruction, as she provides support in preparing for classes using rare books and archival materials in the Special Collections Evans Room.
Every semester the Evans Room hosts a wide variety of classes, supporting the studies and research of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Houston. Having previously attended visiting classes in the Evans Room gives Lena a keen insight as she makes preparations for the coming semester. With the summer preseason nearly behind us and the fall semester quickly approaching, Lena has hit the ground running, currently busying herself preparing materials for Dr. David Mazella’s Introduction to Literary Studies course (scheduled to visit Special Collections in early September to take a closer look at the works of Jonathan Swift).
In the meantime, we’ll do our best trying to influence that career track and ask you to join us in welcoming Lena, as we are so very pleased to have her on board!
In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.
Why So Special? “The pictorial cloth binding with a decoration of flowers that are multicolored,” writes Grob. “I’m a sucker for over-the-top publishers bindings from the 19th century, and this is one of the more elaborate in our collection.”
Originally published in 1852, Queechy was Susan Warner’s second novel, following her widely-translated debut, The Wide, Wide World (1850), also written under the pen name Elizabeth Wetherell. That book’s popularity gave Warner the distinction of being one of the most popular authors of a new nation still finding its literary voice. Our copy of Queechy is a glittering and gilded display that no doubt would have brought color to the cheeks of Warner’s Puritan forebearers. “Pictorial green cloth stamped in gold, red, blue, yellow and black. Edges gilt.”
Location: Pictures will not do this one justice. If you would care for a closer look, Queechy is available for study in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room, during our normal research hours. To spend some time with Fleda Ringgan as she crisscrosses the Atlantic, please request PS3155.Q4 1800z.
The digitization of the Early Texas Documents Collection which has recently been published has been a monumental task several years in the making. With nearly 1,300 items, the documents trace not only the activities of prominent Texans and founders, such as Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, but give researchers a glimpse into what life was like for Texans in the early 19th through transactions involving land, finances, legal matters, and in some cases chattel and slaves. In addition, military documents chronicle the Battle of San Jacinto between General Sam Houston and Santa Anna’s forces. There are also military scrips that document the pay soldiers received for their time of service within the Texas Army and Navy.
Genealogists may also find the documents of interest as the subjects of their research may have written letters, or their names may appear on financial or legal documents contained within the collection. The collection also contains early examples of currency utilized during the Republic era. Selections of these currencies have been featured in the exhibit On the Run: Currency, Credit and Capitals of the Republic of Texas this past June at the Texas Capital Visitors Center in Austin. In short, the collection contains something for everyone.