Come celebrate the season with Robert Frost and the Spiral Press

Join us Thursday, December 14th at 4:00pm in the Davis Family Library Atrium for a reception to honor and enjoy the current Special Collections exhibition, Holiday Greetings from Robert Frost and the Spiral Press, curated by College Archivist Danielle Rougeau.

Light refreshments will be served.

On display for the first time since 1961, when Corinne Tennyson Davids donated the Wales Hawkins Memorial Collection of Frostiana to Middlebury, Robert Frost’s complete set of 28 holiday cards tell the story of an artistic collaboration spanning more than three decades. Robert Frost and the Spiral Press created holiday greeting cards of the highest craftsmanship and design from 1929 until 1962. Works of art in themselves, the cards also stand as true first editions of the chosen poems. Frost became a true champion of fine letterpress, and commented that “the Spiral’s typography and printing found things to say to my poetry that hadn’t been said before.”  

The Bread Loaf Poetry Detectives and the Case of the Missing Manuscript

The Bread Loaf School of English students in Gwyneth Lewis’s Poetry Detective Workshop visited Special Collections on July 26th to study manuscript and printed poetry of several important American poets. Expecting to, as the course description delineates, “use the tools of the sleuth to gain entry into the poetic mind behind individual poems,” the students instead gave the course title a literal meaning when they discovered an exciting and curious paradox…

Manuscripts (along with a couple of manuscript facsimiles) and printed editions of American poetry by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Langston, Hughes, Julia Dorr, Anne Sexton, and Emily Dickinson were arranged on tables to show the journey from the poet’s mind to the printed page.

For Emily Dickinson in particular, this transformation warrants investigation. Often described as a recluse, Dickinson was very private with her poetry and altogether averse to having her poems published. Despite spending much time at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson was not intellectually or emotionally cloistered. She disseminated her poetry among her friends, sharing her poems in letters, constantly updating and rewriting her poems before collating and binding them in her fascicle booklets – her alternative to publishing them.

Fascicle reproduction, photo courtesy of Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, MA from

After her death, her friends and family set out to publish her works so that her genius might be known to the world. However, determining which variation of her many works best reflected her authorial intent proved a challenge. Dickinson’s first publishers, sister-in-law Susan Dickinson and mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, unbound her fascicle booklets and mixed them with the other drafts of her poems in the editing and publishing process. For decades, editions of Dickinson’s poetry hit the shelves with varying structure, both in the poems’ organization in the edition and in poetic structure: editors took liberties naming her poems (Dickinson herself only titled nine), updating her punctuation, and ordering them based on perceived theme or assumed chronology (she did not date her poems).

Because Dickinson did not publish her own poems, her manuscripts are paramount in understanding her works. And because she produced so many drafts without a clear final version, comparing the written copies of her poems is the best way to determine her intended meaning. The first to do so was Thomas H. Johnson, who published the first single edition containing all of Dickinson’s poems in 1955. Working from the original manuscripts rather than the dozen published editions of Dickinson’s poems, Johnson described the manuscripts he consulted to provide a more complete view of the poet’s process.

This very edition, the 1955 Johnson variorum, was open next to a manuscript poem for the Bread Loaf “Poetry Detective” students to study.


Dickinson, Emily, and Thomas Herbert Johnson. Poems: Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955.
The manuscript
The manuscript

In their investigation, the students turned to the entry which corresponds with the manuscript in question (pictured above) to read Johnson’s description and made a startling discovery. The handwritten poem before them matched a copy that Johnson wrote, “has not been located,” written “on stationery watermarked ‘A. Pirie & Sons 1862.’” They lifted the poem to the light, revealing the very watermark described on the unlocated copy. Was the world unaware that Middlebury held this literary treasure? Could these poetry detectives have solved the case of the missing manuscript?

The manuscript, held up against the light to reveal the watermark

Upon further research, we found that the location of the poem had been discovered at some point after Johnson’s 1955 publication (a second edition in 1979 has the same information) and before another popular edition of Dickinson’s poems by Ralph Franklin in 1998. At some point between these two publications, the manuscript’s location was identified as Middlebury College’s Abernethy Collection. Franklin describes the custodial history of the manuscript, unknown to Johnson in 1955: This “fair copy in ink, unsigned and unaddressed, is at Middlebury College” (Franklin). He goes on to identify the poem as likely belonging to Dickinson’s mentor, T.W. Higginson, as the copy in his possession also contained the phrasing “known to the knoll.” In the first published edition, editors chose the variation “known by the knoll.” Franklin writes, “Higginson gave his manuscript to Mildred Howells, daughter of William Dean Howells, [and] it was subsequently sold. Purchased in 1938 from the American Autograph Shop, the Middlebury manuscript, which reads “to” in line 6, appears to be the one sent to Higginson” (Ibid).

Dickinson, Emily, and R. W. Franklin. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Variorum ed. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.

We corroborated this history by checking the library records kept by Middlebury curator Viola White, and indeed, she lists the purchase of Emily Dickinson manuscripts for $135 from the American Autograph Shop on February 25, 1938 (line 49).

Acquisitions logbook, 1938

Although the Poetry Detectives students’ discovery was not entirely new, it served as an exciting and important learning experience, which we hope it will lead to more interest in this manuscript and its inclusion in Harvard’s digital archive of Dickinson’s manuscripts. For more information about our Emily Dickinson manuscript and other little-known manuscripts in our collection, visit go/aspace.




“About Emily Dickinson Archive.” Accessed September 22, 2017.

Dickinson, Emily, and R. W. Franklin. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Variorum ed. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.

Dickinson, Emily, and Thomas Herbert Johnson. Poems: Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955.

Eberwein, J. D. “Corrective Vision: Franklin’s Dickinson Variorum.” Resources for American Literary Study, vol. 26 no. 2, 2000, pp. 260-267. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/rals.2000.0021

“I’m Nobody! Who Are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson.” The Morgan Library & Museum, April 15, 2016.

“The Manuscripts | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Accessed September 22, 2017.

“Manuscript View for Amherst – Amherst Manuscript # 329 – Pink – Small – and Punctual – asc:11465 – P. 1.” Accessed September 22, 2017.

“The Posthumous Discovery of Dickinson’s Poems | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Accessed September 22, 2017.

“Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911), Correspondent | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Accessed September 22, 2017.

Peep Shows as Promised!

This post should come as no surprise to our Stacks & Tracks listeners, as our theme for the first episode of the semester was our newly acquired peep shows!

Peep shows burst onto the European scene in the early 19th century with Austrian printer Heinrich Friedrich Müller’s first “Teleorama” in 1825. These tunnel viewers became immensely popular in Germany, Austria, France, and England, and we are now the proud custodians of examples from the latter two countries. 


The first, “A view of the tunnel under the Thames as it will appear when completed,” depicts a projected view of the first tunnel under a river ever constructed. This peep show offered a glimpse into the future as it was printed in 1829, and the tunnel was not completed and opened to the public until 1843.


The accordion structures unfold to display perspective views to captivate and entertain audiences.



The second, a French peep show from around 1836 with the Les Tuileries Palace on the front features three viewing options.


Through the center square we see pedestrians, carriages, and equestrians on the streets of Paris, with monuments and churches, fountains and buildings, representing the best of the city.


The left and right cutouts complete the picture with views of gardens.




If you missed today’s show, be sure to listen to WRMC Wednesdays from noon to 1pm. And come peep these peep shows yourself in our reading room from 1-5 Monday through Friday.


RBMS TF238. T47 V54 1829

RBMS DC782. T9 O68 1836

Ancient clay artifact meets the Future

Today in Special Collections, our oldest text faced the library’s newest technology.

Our cuneiform tablet, a beer token from 2,000 BCE, took a new form when DLA postdoctoral fellow Kristy Golubiewski-Davis captured it in a 3D scan.

Mounted on a tripod, a small camera photographs the tablet, on a turntable, while a small projector shines different light patterns onto its surface. In the background, a laptop shows the 3D scan as it materializes.

To see 3D scanning in action – along with the tablet and other important Special Collections objects – come to Davis Family Library this Friday! Kristy will by demonstrating 3D scanning in the library atrium from 10am-2pm, and Special Collections will host our annual Fall Family Weekend Open House from 1pm-4pm.

And stay tuned for a 3D printout made from the scan coming soon, a plastic facsimile students and researchers can inspect in their own hands!

Update 10/7/16: The 3D printouts are here!

On top, the original, incised over 4,000 years ago; below, plastic facsimiles to scale and at 200% the original size 3D printed from the scan.

Get out and vote like it’s 1924!

In honor of the Vermont primary on August 9th, we remember that every vote counts – even in a small town.

The tiny Vermont town of Somerset (which still exists!) could not be silenced despite losing 50% of their voting population in 1924. In one fell swoop, the town clerk, treasurer, tax collector, constable, and school director departed, leaving the other two legal voters the only residents eligible to cast their ballots.

Though the town currently boasts a similarly small population, we hope they, and all voting Vermonters, make it to the polls tomorrow!

Discover more Vermont history from the pages of John Y Kellogg’s scrapbook documenting his two-week hike on the Long Trail in September 1921. (RBMS Flat Shelf 56)

New Special Collections exhibits just in time for summer

Currently populating the glass cases of Davis Family Library are Margaret Armstrong book covers and historic postcards. Don’t miss the chance to see them before heading out for the summer!

As part of American Studies professor Ellery Foutch’s AMST 101 course, American Holidays, students researched holiday postcards from our collection, exploring how symbols and themes reflect the cultural mores of turn-of-the-century American life.

The postcards they studied and their comments are on display in the library atrium.

To compliment this exhibit, college archivist Danielle Rougeau curated and designed an exhibit featuring postcards and scrapbooks from the archives. The postcards capture Middlebury College’s landscape and characters as well as the role of postcard correspondence through history.

Postcard from Marjorie Phelps, class of 1917, to her mother. As she mentions, she and her roommate are pictured on the reverse.
Postcard from Marjorie Phelps, class of 1917, to her mother. As she mentions, she and her roommate are pictured on the reverse.

Rounding out our summer exhibits is a tribute to Margaret Armstrong, curated by Joseph Watson and designed by Danielle Rougeau. Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most accomplished book cover designers of the early twentieth century, produced cover art and illustrations for over 270 books.

Come to Special Collections to see a selection of her cover designs and learn more about her life!

Can you tell which cover Margaret Armstrong didn’t design? Come to Special Collections for a closer look and the answer!


First Folio Festival Thursday!

Join us this Thursday February 18th to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the First Folio! exhibit at the Middlebury Museum of Art.

Starting at 4:30pm in the Center for the Arts lobby, there will be musical and theatrical performances, guided tours of the exhibit with professors of English and American Literature Timothy Billings and James Berg, children’s activities with Page One Literacy, and sweet and savory Renaissance refreshments.