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Williamsburg before Williamsburg

17 May 2017 - 10:00am

The College of William and Mary was founded before the City of Williamsburg, the former in 1693, the latter in 1699. The original of this map, however, was made at some point before 1683, and was used by the Lords of Trade and Foreign Plantations in London in their administration of the colonies. It shows the area where Williamsburg and the College would be built, at least a decade before they came into being. This was often the only sort of documentation people in London had access to about places they had never seen themselves.

Rare Book G1805 .B6 1970

Rare Book G1805 .B6 1970

The original of this manuscript map is held by the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and makes up part of a collection of maps known as “The Blathwayt Atlas.” This was a combination of print and manuscript maps, used by the Lords of Trade, but taken home and kept by William Blathwayt, from whom the collection takes its name. The copy in Special Collections is part of a facsimile that was produced using state-of-the-art technology in the 1970s, with commentary by Jeannette Black. It represents a technology of sharing information and images that is in most respects superseded by modern computers – Brown now makes these maps available in high-resolution scans through their website. However, the facsimile, showing the collection of maps used in running England’s colonies in the Americas, is still interesting as an indication of the technology available to people both in the 1680s and in the 1970s for storing and sharing knowledge.

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The ties that bind: How the decay of a binding shows its construction

3 May 2017 - 10:00am

Swem Library has a great many books in very bad bindings. Most modern books, for instance, are held together only by glue at the spine. Even modern hardcovers have the same binding. Other than the hard shell surrounding them, they are in all other respects exactly the same as a cheap paperback. In the past, however, bindings were much stronger.

Titus Livy, Decades, (the first ten books of Livy’s history of Rome), Rare Book PA 6452 .A2 1498

Titus Livy, Decades, (the first ten books of Livy’s history of Rome), Rare Book PA 6452 .A2 1498

Special Collections also has books that have bad bindings, but in many cases their poor condition is due to the fact they are old enough to have been damaged by time or handling. One example shows how this process happens, and also the way the book was made over five hundred years ago, in 1498. Even if the binding is in trouble now, five centuries is not a bad run.


The bumps on the spine of an old book are not just decorative. They are cords, and the pages are sewn to them, so that they are actually integral to the structure. Here they are made of animal skin. The spine was also backed with another piece of animal skin, or in this case, an old manuscript. Many medieval manuscripts ended up this way, cut to bind the products of the printing press which was changing the way books were made. Traces of the manuscript are still visible here because the outer layer of binding has worn away over the centuries. The text you can see here is neither printed, nor was it added after the book was made. It is a medieval manuscript, re-purposed.


The other parts of a hardback that you may be familiar with, but that have lost its original purpose, are the headbands. These are the little pieces of coloured thread at the top and bottom of the spine, which originally reinforced it during use and particularly during removal from the shelf. Modern headbands are just glued on to the spine. In the past, however, they were sewn to the binding before the outer skin was added. Here again you can see how this book is coming apart, but also that the headbands have come loose (and this one has split), and that they are clearly made up of thread that also loops down, through the vellum manuscript, where they are anchored to the structure of the book.



Although we might wish that this binding was still intact, protecting this book from 1498, its decay provides great lessons in how books were made when they were really built to last.

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Remembering World War I

12 April 2017 - 11:12am

On April 6, 1917 the United States entered World War I, then known as the Great War. A century later, objects in Special Collections reveal memories of Americans’ lives at wartime. Among the variety of materials available for research are a collection of Red Cross posters, a veteran’s scrapbook, and a nurse’s correspondence with loved ones.

"What are You doing to Help?", Mss. Acc. 2008.338

“What are You doing to Help?”, Mss. Acc. 2008.338

"What Can You Do?", Mss. Acc. 2008.338

“What Can You Do?”, Mss. Acc. 2008.338

The Red Cross was a vital source of aid and relief both at home and overseas during World War I, providing food, comfort items, and medical care to American and Allied soldiers and their families. In fact, by the end of the war, “nearly one-third of the U.S. population was either a donor to the Red Cross or serving as a volunteer” (“World War I and the American Red Cross,

"Help the Red Cross," Mss. Acc. 2008.338

“Help the Red Cross,” Mss. Acc. 2008.338





The posters the Red Cross published were pivotal visual tools for soliciting participation in the war effort:

“Mass produced, full-color, large-format war posters….were both signs and instruments of two modern innovations in warfare—the military deployment of modern technology and the development of the home front….In addition to being sent to the front, they reached mass numbers of people in every combatant nation, serving to unite diverse populations as simultaneous viewers of the same images and to bring them closer, in an imaginary yet powerful way, to the war. Posters nationalized, mobilized, and modernized civilian populations….It was in part by looking at posters that citizens learned to see themselves as members of the home front” (Pearl James, Picture This: World War I Posters and Visual Culture (Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 2009), 2).


"Days of Used to Be," Mss. Acc. 2009.299

“Days of Used to Be,” Mss. Acc. 2009.299

The pages of this unbound scrapbook contain photographs and an assortment of ephemera belonging to a member of the 78th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, identified only as “Emmet” (Mss. Acc. 2009.309). The scrapbook preserves memories from his service, beginning with his departure from New York on May 19, 1918 and concluding with his discharge on May 29, 1919.

"Meal Ticket," Mss. Acc. 2009.299

“Meal Ticket,” Mss. Acc. 2009.299

"Barbed Wire," Mss. Acc. 2009.299

“Barbed Wire,” Mss. Acc. 2009.299



Included among the pages are hand-written schedules, propaganda dropped from planes, and photographs of cities in destruction, military equipment, and soldiers on the battlefield.









Clara Louise Walde Lawrence was a nurse whose correspondence relates largely to her career before, during, and after World War I. She wrote letters to her parents, sharing details of her experiences abroad during wartime. She particularly notes illnesses suffered by the soldiers, accounts of the condition of various cities in war-torn Europe, and rumors of the date for her homecoming. Interspersed with her letters home are exchanges with her beau, (and later husband) Sgt. Otto Lawrence.

Clara's signature, Mss. Acc. 2009.299

Clara’s signature, Mss. Acc. 2009.299

In the letter at right, dated March 8, 1919, Clara writes:

Mss. Acc. 2009.299

Mss. Acc. 2009.299

“Only yesterday I wrote you all a long letter – so will add only a few lines here saying that I hope you enjoy these books, also the map of Rhein which I know will interest you and Dad. Perhaps you can find many(?) places that might interest you that you know about. In this envelope I am sending a snap shot of my dear boy [Otto Lawrence] to realy not as good one as it was his first days out of bed taken on the Ward with some of the other nurses from Base Hosp. No 1. I have better one’s only this was among them pasted in my book of pictures and as it came off the easiest by wetting it. I am sending it to give you an idea of what a nice chap he is I know you will all like him. I also enclosed a negative of my self taken on balcony of my ward early last August, but I am much thinner at present….Have them printed and save them all for me. I just received a telegram dated Jan 31 from my boy on noon mail stating he was leaving “Bordeaux” the next day for good old U.S. it sure made me very lonesome and more home sick than ever, but I don’t think it will be a great while before we will all follow. I am looking for a telegram from New York on his arrival in port, surely that will be some time after this one coming at this late date….Please write soon. Lovingly, Clara.”

Also included among Clara’s memorabilia are two photograph albums—perhaps one of them the “book of pictures” she mentions in the letter—that document her experiences.

Mss. Acc. 2009.299

Mss. Acc. 2009.299

The stationery on which Otto Lawrence wrote this letter (left) to Clara includes a plea “To the Writer: Save by Writing on Both Sides of this Paper, / To the Folks at Home: Save Food, Buy Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps.” Even simple tasks like reading and writing letters presented reminders of opportunities for participating in the war; and organizations like the Army and Navy YMCA—who published the stationery Otto used—took those opportunities to encourage support.


*Be sure to stop by the main entrance of Swem Library to see SCRC’s display of WWI materials! It will be up for the entire month of April.*

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The World Before QWERTY

5 April 2017 - 11:00am

Can you type without looking at the keyboard? This used to be a skill taught to people who wanted secretarial or clerical jobs. Now of course many of us type quickly because we use computers on a daily basis.  But what about the predecessor to the keyboard we know? This is it – a typecase, filled with individual letters which had to be assembled by hand to create anything which needed to be printed.

Typecase, Swem Library

Typecase, Swem Library

Each cell contains the same letter, symbol, or space. Do you think you could use this without looking? Remember that the letter on the piece of type would be in mirror image, so looking at it may be confusing anyway. A good typesetter or composer would have been able to set type without looking at the pieces of type, remembering the way around the case in the same way we remember our way around the keyboard – through practice. That way he or she could keep looking at the text which needed to be copied and could work faster, with one hand holding the composing stick with the assembled words and the other picking up more letters.

The cell for the small or miniscule ‘e’, the largest in the case because the most commonly used letter in English, Swem Library

The cell for the small or miniscule ‘e’, the largest in the case because the most commonly used letter in English, Swem Library

But there’s another thing – actual physical type doesn’t have an autocorrect, so letters sometimes went in upside down, backwards, or were the wrong letters in the first place. What is more, the compositor could make a mistake in picking up type, but the mistake could also have been made by the person who put the type away. If an “a” was accidentally put into the “o” cell (which is immediately above it), the person setting type the next time around might not notice it and might use the wrong letter. Or the “wrang letter” as the end of that last sentence might have looked if I had been setting it by hand and had had this problem.

Nowadays of course this is only a problem for a very few people, and a ‘printer’ has changed from being a person who used a press to the machine which has replaced both that person and the press. As our world becomes more automated, what other skills will become less necessary? With improvements in voice-recognition software, will today’s William and Mary students find themselves explaining to their children about how they used to have to type all of their work?

Type from this case, set upside down and showing the text in mirror image, Swem Library

Type from this case, set upside down and showing the text in mirror image, Swem Library

Some of Swem Library’s printing equipment, long stored in the basement, is on display on the second floor of the library in the rotunda above the entrance to Special Collections. This includes a typecase like the one pictured here, known as a California Jobbing Case.

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Believable Lies

29 March 2017 - 11:00am

The island of Taiwan, once commonly known in the West by the Portuguese name of Formosa, has recently resurfaced in the news in connection with the One China policy. In the past it was also a subject of interest, although information coming from Taiwan itself was often scarce. Because of that scarcity it was possible in 1704 for a European to appear in London claiming to be a Formosan and to publish a book about the island that was fiction masquerading as a true travel account. Special Collections has just acquired a first edition of one such work with funds from the Gale H. Arnold ’58 Special Collections Endowment.

Rare Book DS895.F7 P8 1704

Rare Book DS895.F7 P8 1704

The author of the work called himself George Psalmanaazaar. He was a Frenchman educated by the Jesuits. Although he wrote an autobiography that was published posthumously, he never gave away his real name and it remains unknown to this day. He used the accounts of Jesuits who had been active in China and Japan, as well as conventions from other travel accounts about exotic places to write his own story and to inform his own performance. In fact, the whole episode was one long charade, with Psalmanaazaar adopting unusual habits like eating raw meat and sleeping upright, which he thought would contribute to people believing that he really was from a different culture. He even invented an alphabet and language for the place he claimed to be from, and the book contains a fold-out sheet of the former and ‘translations’ into his language:

Rare Book DS895.F7 P8 1704

Rare Book DS895.F7 P8 1704

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the truth of Psalmanaazaar’s story was challenged before the Royal Society, the premier scientific organization in Britain. His particular opponent was a Jesuit priest who had spent many years in missions in Asia, though not in Formosa; the priest knew the area and, with the benefit of expertise, attacked Psalmanaazaar’s assertions. However, the fact that he was a Catholic priest, and that Psalmanaazaar framed his whole narrative as an attack on the Jesuits – never popular in Protestant England – meant that he was able to hold his position with the support of anti-Catholics. Thus Psalmanaazaar reminds us that claims to knowledge about something often involve two threads: the assertion of truth and attacks on opponents who disagree. When compared with the second “corrected” edition, which addressed some of the claims that the author was not who he said he was—a copy of which was already in our rare books holdings—this book is an excellent way to explore how people three hundred years ago had to negotiate issues of truth or fiction in ways that seem to have resurfaced along with our recent discussions of Taiwan.

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Propaganda and the Beginnings and End of Spanish America

22 March 2017 - 11:00am


1698 edition of Las Casas, printed in French in Amsterdam (Rare Book F1411 .C437 1698)

1698 edition of Las Casas, printed in French in Amsterdam
(Rare Book F1411 .C437 1698)

The arrival of Europeans in the Americas was an event of global importance, and its effect on the people already living here was devastating. That is why in 1552 the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas wrote a book that he called Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, or A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. The book was so intensely critical of Spanish activities in the New World that it was used for centuries by the opponents of Spain as a way of criticising Spanish rule on both sides of the Atlantic, giving rise to what is now known as “The Black Legend.” As a result, the book was printed in numerous languages, generally in countries that were at war with Spain.

1665 edition of Las Casas, printed in German. No location known, but possibly related to the Latin edition of the previous year, printed in Heidelberg. (Rare Book F1411 .C448)

1665 edition of Las Casas, printed in German. No location known, but possibly related to the Latin edition of the previous year, printed in Heidelberg.
(Rare Book F1411 .C448)

Special Collections already held a couple of these editions and has recently acquired a number of others, so that we now have editions of this book in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Other editions were also produced in Latin and Dutch, although as yet we don’t have copies of these. Some are illustrated, with truly horrific scenes of murder and torture like those shown here, which once again served propaganda purposes, while others leave it to the words to convey the message of brutality.

Engraved title for 1822 edition, printed in Spanish in Mexico. Note the first coat of arms of the newly independent Mexico, the crowned eagle on a prickly pear, shown among the trophies of war at the base of the image. (Rare Book F1411 .C316 1822)

Engraved title for 1822 edition, printed in Spanish in Mexico. Note the first coat of arms of the newly independent Mexico, the crowned eagle on a prickly pear, shown among the trophies of war at the base of the image.
(Rare Book F1411 .C316 1822)

One of the more interesting of our new arrivals doesn’t have pictures and is in the original Spanish, but its interest lies in where and when it was published and by whom. This is the 1822 Mexican edition, one of the first printings of this book in the Americas.

Title page for the same 1822 edition, printed in Spanish in Mexico (Rare Book F1411 .C316 1822)

Title page for the same 1822 edition, printed in Spanish in Mexico
(Rare Book F1411 .C316 1822)

Moreover, this was the year after Mexico achieved independence from Spain, following a war lasting more than a decade. And the printer was someone who was himself a supporter of Independence and had printed books related to the struggle, Mariano Ontiveras. Thus this book is the perfect way to tie both ends of the story of Spanish activity in the Americas together – it describes the beginning of empire and was itself printed at the moment when independence movements were expelling the Spanish from most of the Americas.


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Jennie’s Search for “More to Life” in Maurice Sendak’s “Higglety Pigglety Pop!”

16 March 2017 - 4:52pm
Maurice Sendak, "Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life," 1967 (PZ10.3.S356 Hi)

Maurice Sendak, “Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life,” 1967 (PZ10.3.S356 Hi)

Most of us, if we recognize the name Maurice Sendak, probably think of him as the man who wrote and illustrated the beloved children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” published in 1963. Yet what some may not know is that Sendak wrote (and illustrated) much more than that one popular book. In the Chapin-Horowitz Collection of Cynogetica in the Special Collections stacks is a small book with a baby blue dust jacket with the words “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” along the spine. Next to them, “Sendak.” Inside is a short story illustrated with his familiar style of lines building upon lines to create forms and shadows. And much like “Where the Wild Things Are,” this book has its own brand of amusement and uneasiness that is suggested in its title, which intimates that playfulness will give way to something more contemplative: “Higglety Pigglety Pop!: or There Must Be More to Life.”

Dedication page

Dedication page

IMG_2995Like “Where the Wild Things Are,” which verges on dark and even scary, much of Sendak’s writing toes the line between humorous children’s banter and perceptive musings on adulthood and the business of growing up. At times his language in “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” (and other works) is playful—even, at times, verging on nonsensical—a quality of Sendak’s writing that many have compared to the work of Theodor Geisel, popularly known as Dr. Seuss. It’s this language, paired with Sendak’s characteristic illustrative technique, which gives his writing the veneer of childlike whimsy. Yet fans of Sendak’s work have increasingly suggested that his writings were often not very childlike at all, at least in the sense that they sometimes urge us to contemplate not only what it means to be a child or a “grown up,” but also what it means to be human, mortal, and fallible.[1]


On one hand, this book is a terrific children’s story, elaborating upon a “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme also called “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” On the other hand, however, it is a tale that follows its main character on her journey to see if the grass is truly greener outside the confines of her comfortable home. Indeed, Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, has everything she could ever want: “She had her own comb and brush, two different bottles of pills, eyedrops, eardrops, a thermometer, and for cold weather a wool sweater. There were two windows for her to look out of and two bowls to eat from. She even had a master who loved her.” Yet Jennie is “discontented” and “[doesn’t] care” about all that, saying that she wants “something I do not have. There must be more to life than having everything!” So she packs up all her belongings and leaves home for good. “You have everything,” says the potted plant on the window sill. Jennie responds by chewing off the plant: first one leaf, then a few more, then all of the plant until it cannot speak any more to Jennie about how foolish she is to leave her happy home (3).


A wonderful example of Sendak’s master work with illustration. Here we see Jennie not-so-secretly slurping the yolk out of an egg as she hitches a ride. In the background, Sendak has included a nod to his partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, as we see the words “PROF GLYNN” on the awning of the building in the background.

Yet while we might expect some kind of instructional tale about how the grass is not, in fact, usually greener on the other side, Sendak writes a story in which the protagonist ends up all right in the end, choosing to abandon her home for good and live at Castle Yonder. In fact, during her journey away from home, she eats a lot, travels to new places, and even gets to perform in a theatrical performance of the eponymous “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme. Jennie even sends a letter to her former owner to inform him of her new life, telling him that if he ever visits to “look for me when you get here.”


Though Jennie’s adventure is not a lesson learned, per se, neither is it a frolic without Sendakian undertones of loneliness, darkness, or growing pains. What builds and supports much of that drama is Sendak’s wonderfully detailed illustrations. His drawings of Jennie are so lovingly described that you can almost see her come to life and imagine her spunky personality (indeed, Jennie was a real dog, and the friend to whom Sendak dedicates the book). And just as imaginatively created are Sendak’s illustrations of various moments Jennie experiences during her trek away from home in search of the “More to Life.” Perhaps even more than the words of the tale or the actual events that unfold, the illustrations convey the uncertainty about what Jennie’s fate will be. They present at once a playful humor as she interacts with other characters—many of them animals, as well as one baby—and a sense of the isolation that looms and encroaches upon her.IMG_3003IMG_3004

Despite her confidence in leaving home and searching for the “more” that could exist in life, Jennie’s journey is always somehow at risk of making it all come undone. The baby tears up the things in her bag; she almost gets eaten by a lion; she gets lost in the woods; and yet Jennie reaches Castle Yonder, where she, quite contentedly, decides to stay. When we reach the tale’s conclusion and read her letter home, we realize that Jennie is happy where she is now, but that’s about all we learn. There’s no moralizing message, no instructional warning that you only know what you had once it’s lost. Instead we find that the journey was exciting, surprising, trying, and sometimes a little sad. But in a way that’s exactly Sendak’s point: that life is all those things, no matter whether you stay in the comfort of what you know or venture out to brave the unknown.



[1] See Malcolm Jones, “Maurice Sendak Didn’t Just Make Books for Children, but for Everyone,”, 2012; Pamela Paul, “The Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules,” Sunday Book Review, The New York Times, 2011; and Avi Steinberg, “‘We Are Inseparable!’: On Maurice Sendak’s Latest Book,” The New Yorker, 2013.

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SCRC’s Exhibition Now Open at the Muscarelle Museum of Art

15 February 2017 - 10:00am

On February 11 the exhibition, “Written in Confidence: The Unpublished Letters of James Monroe,” opened to the public. Featuring 12 letters from the recently-acquired 28-letter collection of correspondence between James Monroe and William Crawford, the exhibition is on display at the Muscarelle Museum of Art on William & Mary’s campus through May 14, 2017. FullSizeRender


Accompanying the 12 letters are text and visual material that put the documents into context of what was taking place politically, economically, and socially during Monroe’s presidency. Among the subjects discussed in the exhibition are piracy and privateering, the 1819 financial panic, the acquisition of Florida, and Monroe’s and Crawford’s complicated friendship-rivalry. Imagery in the exhibition includes an engraving of Monroe from the Mucarelle’s collections and a graphite sketch of Monroe by esteemed artist John Vanderlyn.


The collection of Monroe-Crawford letters span from 1817 to 1823, with some of the letters being undated. A couple of the letters in the collection are drafts, revealing the careful consideration Monroe (and other writers of the time) put into composing their correspondence.  As a whole, the collection offers researchers and scholars an exciting opportunity for making new discoveries about Monroe and his time as president of the United States (1817-1825). For all of us, it provides the chance to learn more about the nation’s last founding father. IMG_2619


Be sure to stop by and see this exhibition. Student admission is free with your W&M ID!


And don’t forget to visit the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library to see the letters in person, as they will be available to research use!


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The Research Behind a Catalog Record: Map of Coal Lands in Raleigh County, West Virginia

8 February 2017 - 10:33am


Map of 47,000 Acres of Land in Raleigh County, West Virginia

Map of 47,000 Acres of Land in Raleigh County, West Virginia

An interesting old map, recently cataloged and made accessible in the Earl Gregg Swem Library Rare Books Collection at SCRC, bears witness to the transformation of West Virginia from a region of “breathtaking scenery and lavish virgin forests” to a land where “mountain farming culture was defeated by the ever widening grasp of speculators and absentees” (Barbara Rasmussen. Absentee Landowning and exploitation in West Virginia, 1760-1920. University Press of Kentucky, 1994). Rasmussen recounts how, in the 1880’s, numerous land-holding companies backed by large eastern banks began buying up swaths of land in West Virginia. Our old map clearly originated during that era. However, the fact that it has no indication of creator or date would present a challenge for the cataloger who had to create a record to represent the old map.

Map detail

Map detail

The large-scale, hand-colored map bears the title Map of 47,000 Acres of Land in Raleigh County, West Virginia, Owned by Logan M. Bullitt as Trustee. It is printed on a rectangular sheet (125 x 183 cm) that is attached to and folded into a brown cloth cover. The map depicts properties in Raleigh County, West Virginia, underlain with coal, acquired by some unnamed land-holding company of which Logan M. Bullitt was apparently a trustee. It shows property lines of plots purchased, lists the individuals from whom the land was acquired, and indicates the quality of the coal underlying each property. Locations of existing buildings are marked by small black squares and show that Raleigh County was very sparsely settled at the time the map was made. Raleigh Court House, the county seat later to become known as Beckley, appears as a cluster of only about 35 buildings. Along the northern edge of the mapped area, a short section of the New River can be seen with a bit of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway beside it and with a location designated “Prince.” Historical sources say that the C & O Railway was built between 1869 and 1873–to connect Cincinnati, Ohio, to Richmond, Virginia and the port at Newport News–and that a station with a post office was built at Prince, West Virginia around 1889. Also shown are two projected railroad spurs along major river valleys in Raleigh County, planned to eventually provide transportation of coal and timber to market. Preliminary surveys for those railroad spurs were conducted around 1889. In the upper right corner of the sheet is printed a smaller-scale general map showing the whole of West Virginia and other nearby states. On this general map are depicted rivers and streams and all the railroads existing in those states at the time.

Map detail

Map detail

The map was evidently created some time after 1889 and before 1898 when the C & O Railway Company began the official surveying and construction of those spurs shown on the map as “projected,” but when was it made, exactly? And who was Logan M. Bullitt, and with which land-holding company was he associated when these coal lands were being bought up? A search of the internet will find many references to Logan M. Bullitt. He was a wealthy Philadelphia lawyer who, along with his father, John C. Bullitt, invested in both mining enterprises and railroads. The Bullitts were among the so-called “robber barons” of this era, getting rich on royalties from their mining enterprises and fees charged for transporting the coal on their railroads. By 1893 Logan Bullitt is listed in business reference sources as an officer or trustee for a long list of enterprises, including dozens of coal mining companies in West Virginia and Virginia. But which company of the dozens listed was connected to the Raleigh County coal lands?


The answer was found in “Brief History of Beckley, W.Va. (1943)” by Charles Hodel. Hodel describes a man named Azel Ford, a Raleigh County farmer, who was “far ahead of his neighbors in sensing the value of the lands they owned.” The author says “[h]e secured options, and with a briefcase full of them visited some wealthy men in Philadelphia. They became interested, bought the first batch and asked for more … Ford’s perspicacity in the 1880’s formed the basis of what is now the Beaver Coal Corporation. His work of rounding up the lands comprised in its holdings was finished in 1891.…” The current internet website for Beaver Coal Company, Limited, under the  “About Us/History” tab,  provides confirmation:  “In 1889, Anthony Drexel, Logan Bullitt and J.P. Morgan, three prominent men from Philadelphia, PA, sent their land agent, Azel Ford, to Raleigh County, WV, to purchase approximately 50,000 acres of property in and around the Beckley area. The acquired property was later placed under the banner of Beaver Coal Corporation, the predecessor to Beaver Coal Company, Limited, …” The names of Mr. Bullitt’s partners mentioned here will be familiar:  Anthony Drexel was a partner in his family’s banking and investment company, Drexel & Co., in 1891 he founded Drexel Institute, now Drexel University; J. Pierpont Morgan was Drexel’s protégé and partner who went on to develop another important corporate giant which today is known as J.P. Morgan and Chase.


Now a catalog record to represent the map could be completed with confirmation of the company responsible and an approximate year of creation.

Postscript:  In 2017, Beaver Coal Company, Limited, still owns the 47,000 acres depicted on our old map, and is listed among the 25 largest land-holding companies in West Virginia today. For more information about the problems faced by West Virginia because of absentee corporate ownership of the land, see the internet article, “Who Owns West Virginia in the 21st Century” by Ted Boettner.


Written by Kathryn Blue, Senior Cataloger.