Having been established in 1913 by the Science Teacher’s Bureau, the Boston Children’s Museum has grown in size, stature, and influence in those 107 years. What’s remained the same, however, is the mission to educate children about the world through exposure, interaction and observation.
In November of 2019, hundreds of lantern slides were added to Digital Commonwealth. This collection shows the early years of the museum, the second oldest of its kind.
Even before STEM became a commonly known acronym, the Children’s Museum was a pioneer in teaching about the natural world, offering lots of field trips and collecting specimens for identification and study. Jaunters Clubs filled with both boys and girls took their nets and jars and had a truly hands-on experience with the natural world.
Echoing the diversity found in nature, the early Boston Children’s Museum mounted exhibits teaching about other countries and cultures. Dolls and dollhouses from all over the world delighted thousands of kids. Many dolls were mechanical, sparking curiosity. Games and spontaneous play were encouraged. Visit the full collection of over 300 slides.
The holiday season was celebrated at Digital Commonwealth by adding some interesting collections. Our biggest contributors, Boston Public Library and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, of course, did their bit. But let’s highlight our other two contributors.
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society performed a good deed for all Bostonians by sponsoring the digitization of the Doyle’s Café memorabilia. When that 137-year-old institution closed in October 2019, many of the pub’s decorations and ephemera were auctioned off. JPHS made sure a record was made before they all disappeared into private collections. Thank you!
The Lawrence Public Library has been a frequent and welcome contributor. This month’s collection, the Phyllis Tyler Paper Doll Collection, is another set of seldom seen ephemera. If the fashions didn’t give away the fact that this set is from the 1940’s, the celebrity dolls – Betty Grable and Ava Gardner – would. Perhaps most striking is the WAFS (Women’s Air Force) pilot dolls in both military and mufti (left and right respectively). Yes, women did their bit in World War II, too.
My very first post on the Digital Commonwealth blog was an interview with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library. She was knowledgeable, encouraging and funny. She was a perfect first interview. I’ve interviewed other members since and they have been universally enthusiastic about their collections and digitizing through DC.
It’s been an honor to be editor of this blog for three years and it is a joy to know I’m passing the editorship on to someone who loves the collections and finds our members just as fascinating as I did. (Good luck, Anne!)
You were all inspirational to me. I hope I did you some justice in these postings.
I’ve been fascinated by this photo ever since it was uploaded. Are we looking at the 19th century equivalent of Photoshopping? The Brown, Cooley, Noble and Strong families pose very sedately in front of a raging river with a train crossing a suspension bridge in the distance. The subjects are definitely sitting on chairs on a rocky ground. It’s that raging river that does not seem to belong.
Here is where the wonderful enlarging function on Digital Commonwealth comes in handy. Click on the link in the caption to go to Digital Commonwealth. Now you can enlarge it. What a closer look will show you is that there’s an aura or halo around any figure positioned directly in front of the river. The figures in the center do not have it. Maybe these families were posed outdoors, but I suspect the river was not raging when they were. Surely if the river was threatening to breach its banks, someone in that happy little group would be looking apprehensively to their left.
When I talked to Dick Rowley, Granville Public Library volunteer, he was more suspicious of the little train on the suspension bridge. He’s right. The trees, sky, bridge and train seem to be from a different photo taken at a different time of day. How many deceptions are there to uncover here?
We haven’t talked about the people in this photo. Dick points out that the earliest death date for any of them is 1888, so this photo was taken no later than that. They are all prominent members of Granville society, well-dressed, respectable, stern even. Except for the woman seated in the foreground. Dressed all in black, she seems to be smirking. She knows what’s going on, but she’s not telling.
Of the many holidays we celebrate at this time of year, Christmas is certainly the best marketed. Chances are, whether you decry this or embrace it, you can’t escape it. The images in this post are for the Richard Schwarz Toy Emporium. First of all, we need more toy emporiums. (Emporia?) Who wants to go to a toy store when they could go to an emporium?
If the Schwarz name calls to mind an even more famous toy retailer, you are not mistaken. Four German immigrant brothers came to America and started their own businesses, all importing and selling toys: Henry in Baltimore, G.A. in Philadelphia, Richard in Boston and F.A.O. in New York City.
Among the most fascinating of the stores on Washington St. is the great toy emporium of Richard Schwarz, at 484 and 486, by far the largest concern of its kind in the city. Everything desirable in imported or domestic toys, games and fancy goods, from the tiniest to the biggest from the lowest-priced to the most costly, is shown here in endless variety. (King’s how to see Boston; a trustworthy guide book ..Boston: Moses King, 1895.)
The adjacent trade cards have the emporium located at 497 and 499 Washington St. I’m not sure if Schwarz moved or if the street was renumbered, a not unheard of practice in 19th century Boston. Another 19th century difference to note is that Santa has fewer reindeer pulling his sleigh (more like a sled on one card). Santa also is dropping packages down the chimney (See left.) while staying on the roof himself, a much more practical approach if you ask me – especially if you’re wearing a black hoodie and carrying a whip like the Santa below.
May this holiday season find you and those you love in good health, good spirits and experiencing great joy.
Let us give thanks for November’s new collections. And additions to existing collections. But I was most taken with two of our new collections: Boston Children’s Museum Lantern Slides and the Washington Historical Commission Collection.
Many of the lantern slides are hand-colored, giving unnaturally rosy cheeks to all captured in the image. I never knew the Children’s Museum started in Jamaica Plain, but you can see in the image at left that it was still there in 1940. Not that the museum was parochial – you’ll see Images of international exhibits on Egypt, China and Scandinavia for a few.
The Washington Historical Commission Collection is a wonderful collection of images, texts and ephemera. The Reward of Merit (Below right) is something I’ve never seen. Apparently, they were handed out by teachers to students. Who wouldn’t settle down to their studies if they were given certificates like this?
Every year there is a first substantial snow of the year. As I type this, snow has just started falling in Boston. Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the prediction has gone from “up to 12 inches” to 6-12″, to 4-6″ to “wintry mix”. I have no idea how much snow we’ll get in the end. It definitely will make a difference if you’re in the Berkshires, Greater Worcester or south of the Pike.
Two things I do know: media forecasters will talk as if this is a never-seen-before event in Massachusetts and drivers across the state will drive like they’ve never seen snow before. Come on, people. We have snow every year. Some storms are historic, like the Blizzard of ’78 or the Blizzard of ’88. This time, though, the timing is everything. The Blizzard of ’78 occurred in February, in 1888 it was March.
This time it’s Thanksgiving weekend. One of the busiest travel days of the year. No matter how much snow we get, it couldn’t come at a worse time. So be smart, slow down, be careful and be safe.
Every town has one. The general store where everyone discusses local politics. The church where the community has potluck dinners. The community center where the schools and amateur theater troupe put on shows. They’re gathering places that you can’t imagine losing because they’ve always been there. Until they’re not.
Someone retires, a weather disaster occurs, an owner gets an offer too good to decline and that local institution is gone. What can you do to preserve it? In Boston, the latest example was the closing of Doyle’s Cafe. Doyle’s was an institution in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, known for attracting politicians and generations of families. And for the memorabilia on its walls. When the decision was made to close, the owners held an auction of its contents.
As reported on the Irish Central website, Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library are teaming up to digitize any item purchased at the auction. So, if you are losing a local institution and you can’t add its contents to your collections, think about having them digitized. Chances are you have an image, maybe a map, that includes the institution, why not have a digital image of the furnishings, the banners, the costumes? Enrich the memories and your collections before they’re lost.
The Boston Public Library went to town in October, adding three new collections and adding new items to three existing collections, for over 1,000 items total. But Digital Commonwealth did not neglect its smaller members. Boston Latin School, Sturgis Library, Weymouth Public Libraries and Wilbraham Public Library all added from 1 to 952 items to the Digital Commonwealth universe.
This includes the image on the left. We know these five young men and two coaches were champions in 1917, but of what? No matter how much I enlarge the photo, I can’t make out the inscription. The athletes are wearing heavy wool sweaters with their shorts plus pretty gnarly socks. The only hint is the surprisingly-impressive-for-a-high-school trophy. The Roman (Greek?) god appears to be holding what looks to me like a crew oar crowned with a laurel wreath. I vote for crew champions. What do you think?
We have no newly-added collections this month (the dreaded technical difficulty prevented this), but we do have formats that you may not have checked out yet. Go to the Explore tab on the Digital Commonwealth home page and select Formats. These are arranged by the numbers, so Photographs are at the top of the list followed by Letters/correspondence and then Documents.
But scroll down and you soon come to Film/video. Of the 28,400 items here, 23,135 are from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection. This collection of public media was amassed by WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve at-risk materials. There are also tapes from local TV news programs and Boston City Council meetings.
Next on the list are Objects/artifacts. These range from clothing/costumes to furniture to jewelry to samplers. Some items are unique, like the Aeolian harp from Historic New England or the Native American beaded pouch from the Perkins School for the Blind’s Tad Chapman Collection.
Proceeding further down, we come to Audio recordings (nonmusical). These are easy to spot by their speaker icon (right). Most of these are also from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection, but there are several local oral history collections, too. What about music? Well, keep scrolling. That’s listed as Music (recordings). While some of these also have speaker icons, some are pictured with images of old-fashioned audio cassettes.
Digital Commonwealth: it’s not just pretty pictures.