Priest, Poet, Reader, Rebel: The Books of Jose Manuel Sartorio

Jose Manuel Sartorio was a priest in late colonial Mexico.[1] Of humble origins, Sartorio excelled in his studies and was several years in residence at the Colegio de San Ildefonso, a prestigious Jesuit college. His 4,000-volume personal library would have made for a formidable display of his penchant for letters. Some of these are now at Sutro Library, likely from Adolph Sutro’s wholesale purchase in 1889 of the Abadiano bookstore in Mexico City. The Abadianos are known to have trafficked in the literary property of the church and its clergy, on which more later.

Sartorio often signed his books with only his last name. Of course, I didn’t know this was his signature when I first saw it months ago. Searching for the signer’s identity seemed almost futile; it was so little to go on. I did come across a Sartorio in the Library of Congress Name Authority File, but how was I supposed to know they were the same person? The signature appeared in a handful of other books in the following weeks, but nothing made certain a link between the one name I found and the autograph.

When the war for Mexican independence began, Sartorio sided with the insurgents. A popular and influential figure, Sartorio held many administrative positions before and after the war, including a spot on the provisional government which, on September 28, 1821, signed the Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire,[2] the birth of the Mexican state. Sartorio’s is the fourth signature down on the first column.


I forget exactly what led me to seek a digital copy of the Declaration, but I recall the easy joy of recognition when I saw the name and recognized the abbreviated “Manuel” and angled “J” and “S.” With this evidence in hand (or on screen), I can now make more detailed notes, and add the fully authorized name, to records so that a single search in the California State Library’s catalog will find instances where he is listed as “former owner.” There aren’t many yet, but I have every reason to believe more will emerge as I comb Sutro’s collections at which point the list of results will grow. Among Sartorio’s many roles—which include professor, prison chaplain, and college rector—his work for the Spanish courts as a censor of drama, literature, and newspapers make me especially curious about what his personal library contains.

Print secondary sources, like biographies, and digitized primary sources, like the image from Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación, can help us see anew what before appeared as indiscernible or of little consequence. The books themselves open possibilities for studying print, book, and reading cultures of Mexico in the years prior to, during, and after independence. The Abadianos appraised and sold the libraries of many deceased priests and laypersons, which is likely how they got Sartorio’s books. Several handwritten catalogs made during the appraisal and sale of these collections are available in the Abadiano bookstore records, though one for Sartorio is not to among them. Since there is no finding aid available for this collection (yet) I’ll list them at the end of this post.

Apart from the text, there are many other ways to approach books, but there is only one way to enter Sutro Library—we hope you’ll visit us on the 5th Floor of J. Paul Leonard Library!

Jose Guerrero is Sutro Library’s Cataloging & Metadata Librarian.

Appendix: A list of manuscript catalogs of libraries appraised or sold by Libreria Abadiano, 1826-1843

Ynventario de los Libros que quedan por fallecimiento del Sor. Dr. Dn. Dimas Maldonado. Ano de 1826.

Lista de los libros abaluados por Dn. Jose Lubian con precios tamano y estante en que se hayan. Agosto de 1831. 27 pages.

Todos estos libros qu pertenecian al R. P. Sr. Jose Alcantara he tomado para aplicar por el [?] la 3a parte de su valor en union con la mayor brevedad possible. 3 pages.

Lista de mis libros segun sus materias que formo yo Nicolas Aragon hoi 19 de Agosto de 1836. 11 pages.

——A second list of Aragon’s books made after he died is titled: Lista de los libros que el que subscribe remite a la Sra. Da. Urbana Mendoza, para que se avaluen y vendan con los de la libreria del finado Sr. Cura Dr. Dn. Nicolas Aragon.

Ynbentario general de los libros que se benden y pertenesieron al finado Sor. Dn. Ramon Abarca y es como adentro se esperesan ala letra. 11 pages.

Avaluo de los libros que quedaron por muerte del Sr. D. Jose Maria Picaro, heco por D. Luis Abadiano y este es el borrador de dicho avaluo. 5 pages.

Ynbentario de los libros y muebles pertenicientes al finado P. Dn. Manuel Gutierrez de Teran. 7 pages.

Libros de la testamento del finado R. P. D. Jose Joaquin Ruiz. 10 pages.

Avaluo de los libros que quedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Lic. D. Manuel Ostia. 9 pages.

Abaluo de los ienes que quedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Rev. Dn. Fernando Garcia Quintana[?], hecho por el corridor del mismo, Jose Crespo, por nombramiento que hicieron los Sres. […] del Campo, y Rev. D. jose Anto. Aguirre Alvacias testamentarios de mancornas[?] del otro finado, quien los expresa enla forma y manera siguiente. 44 pages.

Lista de los libros que quiedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Cura de Atotonilco el Chico, Rv. D. Ygnacio Roldan. 4 pages.

Lista de libros de venta, del Sr. Yermo. 12 pages.

Ynventario Avaluo de los libros que pertenecian al finado Sr. L. D. Yo. Espinosa, hehco por Luis Abadiano. 10 pages.


[1] Most of the details of Sartorio’s life are drawn from the biographical entry found in: Pedro Henríquez Ureña, La utopía de América. Edited by Angel Rama and Rafael Gutierrez Girardot. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989, pages 193-194.

[2] The photograph below is courtesy of Wikipedia user Hpav7, and can be viewed, along with the text of the Declaration, at:

As Dull as A Phone Book?

Have you ever heard a speech or lecture described as being, “So boring it was like listening to someone read a phone book”?  While I agree that listening to someone read a modern phone directory (the few that remain, that is!) would be dull indeed, older directories are fascinating documents.  Many people who come to do genealogical research at the Sutro Library turn to the library’s large collection of city directories to see if an ancestor is listed, to find mention of a grandparent or great-grandparent’s business in the advertising pages, or to discover in what cities people who share their names have settled.  But even if you don’t have a specific name to look up, you can still sleuth among the pages of directories, reconstructing lives and imagining cities quite different from the ones we live in today.

Look, for example, at this page from a nineteenth-century Charlestown, Massachusetts directory.



Eleanor Dempster is listed as widow, living at the rear of 31 Pleasant Street.  Also living at the rear of  number 31 is George R. Dempster.  Perhaps George is Eleanor’s grown son, and she is, in nineteenth-century parlance, keeping house for him.  Or perhaps he is supporting her, financially or emotionally, after the death of her husband.  At least six women on this one page are listed as widows.  Unfortunately the directory isn’t dated, but perhaps it was published after the Civil War and Eleanor Dempster and the other widows lost their husbands in combat.  I wonder if you, like me, find it surprising that a woman at that time, residing in a house without her husband, would advertise that fact in a directory, potentially making herself a target of criminals.  But clearly it was commonly done.  A number of the men listed here have addresses where they board, meaning they pay for a room and meals in a larger house.  They were probably all unmarried, relying on a landlady to cook and clean for them.  Many of the people listed here have jobs that don’t exist anymore or are known by different terminology: morocco dresser, omnibus driver, hosemaker, hostler, currier.

A glance at a few pages from the business section of the Charlestown directory conjures up images of a very different streetscape than the ones we’re used to.   On the page below, we see a list of those boarding houses, many of them run by women – perhaps some of them are widows, too, taking in boarders to make ends meet.  A number of those boarding houses are on Chelsea Street, which ran, I’m guessing, through a neighborhood that was nearer to town’s commercial activity.  I’m very curious about the two building movers listed.  It’s hard to imagine a house balanced on a cart, being pulled by a team of horses. How perfect that the proprietor of the bonnet and hat bleachery is called Homer Snow.


See what you can discover in the following pages.  I, for one, wonder at the demand for Morocco dressers, and suspect that the lone midwife included is kept extremely busy.




No matter what specific detail catches our eyes as we study the pages, we get an overwhelming impression of streets full of horses pulling carts; icemen delivering dripping loads; everyone who passes us wearing stout boots, and a cap, hat, or bonnet.  Those streets would be crowded with signs advertising the services of Morocco dressers (lots of Morocco dressers, especially if you are on Medford or Main), oyster restaurants, and milliners. Of course the horses need to be fed and shod, and the horse shoers will need nails, so we might see blacksmith shops and stables on our imagined street.  Feeling unwell?  Mrs. Dalton has leeches if your doctor suggests a bleeding.  (Imagine what her shop window looked like.) Gloves soiled?  Josiah Reed cleans kid gloves.  Of course, as library lover I can’t help but notice the three circulating libraries operated by Misters Carlton, Hobbs, and Kellam.

Next time you visit the Sutro Library, I urge you to take a moment to flip through a city directory, and imagine the lives of the people listed and the look and feel of the city as it pulsed with life.  You might even find someone who shares your name.


This post and all of the images are by Isabel Breskin, Sutro Volunteer.

Return from Exile

How Sutro Library’s Collection is Helping Sephardic Jews Gain Spanish and Portuguese citizenship

Today’s post was written by Sutro Library’s Genealogy & Local History Librarian, Dvorah Lewis

 Izmir: List of 7300 Names of Jewish Brides and Grooms compiled by Dov Cohen is one of Sutro Library’s most popular genealogy titles, if not the most popular. Apart from Sutro Library, this 27-page index is only available at one other library in California, the Los Angeles Family History Library, and it’s only available at a few other libraries nationwide. Because of this, Sutro Library’s copy does not circulate. The staff at Sutro would love to scan it and make it available to the public, but copyright law does not allow this. So for now, it is available to browse within the Sutro Library Reading Room.

The index was created from marriage contracts (known as ketubot) in the Jewish community of Izmir. It includes the names of brides and grooms who married between the years of 1883-1901 and 1918-1933. The original records include information on the fathers of the bride and groom, the date of marriage, the name of the synagogue, and the amount of dowry. In his introduction to this index, Cohen states that the original information was written in an old script known as Chatzi-Kulmus, which was the form of writing at this time for Sephardic Jews (Jews who originate from the Iberian Peninsula­).

Izmir: List of 7300 Names of Jewish Brides and Grooms compiled by Dov Cohen
Example provided in pages leading up to index.

Why else is this index so special?

In 2015, both Spain and Portugal began granting citizenship to those who could prove they descended from Jews expelled at the end of the 15th century. This index has become integral in helping researchers prove their Sephardic heritage.

With these offers, Spain and Portugal are trying to make amends for what happened 527 years ago. On April 29, 1492, the Edict of Expulsion decreed that the Jews living in Spain could stay if they converted to Christianity or else face execution if they refused to convert and refused to leave. Many of these Spanish Jews sought refuge in Portugal only to be expelled 5 years later in 1497 while others fled to the Ottoman Empire, settling in cities like Salonika (Greece), Istanbul (Turkey) and even Jerusalem (Israel).

Migrations and Settlements of the Spanish Jews from the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

*Above image found on WikiCommons.

It wasn’t until the mid-16th century that Jews began arriving and settling in Izmir which had become a thriving trade center in Turkey. An organized Jewish community began in 1605 when they established a synagogue and other institutions. The beginning of the 20th century marked a mass migration of Jews from Izmir to the Americas, Europe, and Israel. Then in 1950, the mass migration hit its peak when almost all of Izmir’s remaining Jews left for Israel.[1]

The offer for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship has turned applicants into accidental genealogists; however, most are not tracing their family history in order to learn about their ancestors. Instead, many applicants are less interested in the past and more interested in future opportunities an EU passport can provide.

What’s needed to apply for citizenship?

The Portuguese offer only has four requirements:

  • Certificate from Jewish Community of Portugal;
  • Proof of Sephardic ancestry;
  • Criminal record certificate issued by: the competent Portuguese authorities; country of nationality; and country where the applicant has taken residence;
  • Current identification papers.

The Spanish citizenship has similar requirements as Portugal but also requires applicants to:

  • Take Spanish language and culture exams;
  • Travel to Spain to have documentation verified by a notary;
  • Apply by October 1, 2019.

These added requirements have made it harder for those seeking Spanish citizenship. The government expected hundreds of thousands of Jews to apply, but as of last month, the number was just under 6,000 with a high number of applicants coming from Israel, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States. The official number won’t be available until all of the applications are processed. The number might not be more than it was last month since the cost to apply as well as the complicated application process are major deterrents.

When asked how else someone can trace their Turkish ancestors, Jeffrey Malka M.D., author of Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and their World, provided the following information: “The Sephardic Jews of Turkey, especially in Istanbul, Izmir, and even Rhodes, tend to be related…Sephardic surnames are often hereditary since the 12th century, and pre-expulsion Spanish archives are excellent allowing long family trees.” He also stated that “to acquire the documentation necessary for the citizenship offer, a genealogist report is usually necessary.” Dr. Malka has devoted many years (and publications!) to helping people trace their Sephardic ancestors. In addition to his book, he also has an award-winning website which is free to use and is a great place to start for those interested in exploring their Sephardic heritage: SephardicGen Resources.

2nd edition of Sephardic Genealogy by Jeffrey S. Malka.

*Sutro Library has the first edition of Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and their World by Jeffrey S. Malka.

While the Spain citizenship application deadline is today, it’s not too late to apply for the Portugal one, which does not require a link to Portuguese Jews and has no deadline (as of yet). Even if you are of Ashkenazi descent (Jews who originate from Central or Eastern Europe), there’s a strong chance you have at least one Jewish ancestor who was expelled in 1492.[2]

Izmir: List of 7300 Names of Jewish Brides and Grooms is available for researchers to browse within the Sutro Library. Alternatively, Sutro Library staff can conduct look-up requests and provide scans at no charge.

Sutro Library would like to thank Jeffrey S. Malka for his assistance with this article and the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society for donating a copy of this invaluable index to us over 20 years ago.

For another resource for the Sephardic Jewish community of Izmir:

For an account of someone’s experience applying for Spanish citizenship:




[2] A quantitative biology study of the Jewish population found that statistically nearly all Jews today are likely to have at least one ancestor who was expelled from Spain in 1492.


All the World is a Stage: Performance, Theater, and Culture.

The current exhibit pays homage to the extensive collection of theater and performance history at the Sutro Library.


Performance is a central component to our experience.  In fact, many scholars have, and still do, study culture through the lens of humans as actors – ‘performing’ their lives with meaning and purpose. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) claimed that “a ritual, a tall tale, a performance, a symbol, or an event” can be treated as ‘text.’”  Within this context any aspect of the social world is something to which we can explore, and to which we can search for significance: about our lives and our connections – to each other – to symbols – and to the world.


Maya Angelou believed that the stories we create and the tales we tell come from the same origins as our impulse to “walk, talk, climb mountains or swim in the oceans.” Creating narratives is thus an essential component of our humanity.  Gilles Ste-Croix, cofounder of the Cirque du Soleil, similarly explained “since human beings started to gather in groups and communities, they sensed the necessity to transmit their experiences and knowledge – fundamentally – through storytelling.” All this is to say that humans have engaged in performance of some variety, either through cave paintings, ritual, oral tradition, dance, theater, circus, magic, and story-telling, from the start.


For this exhibit, we chose items which touch upon these myriad aspects of performance and theater. To that end, we included images and books on ancient Greek and Egyptian temples, plays, images of actors, circus performers, books on magic, ventriloquism, as well as caricature (political theater).


tamer lion-000000

We also wanted to touch upon the notion of “spectacle” so we included items on magic, ventriloquism, and circus performance. In Aristotle’s Poetics ‘spectacle’ is one of the six components of drama, and refers to elements such as costume, music, scenery, etc., basically all the parts of a performance which are not dialogue. This sensory part of a performance is worth discussing, examining the circus has merit as a subject for study in that it is almost pure spectacle. One can easily imagine, “in a way, circus…[to be] the contemporary, real-time, real Avengers, Marvel comic version of theater – not in its lightness or playfulness necessarily, but in the fact that it features people, special people, super heroes, people doing things that aren’t normal – yet they are normal people.”

family trapeeze

As for caricature and satire, it has been and continues to be a potent force in which to perform protest. It can be a powerful tool against power, but also as a tool for discussing culture. The kind of images presented by the caricaturist are designed to provoke emotion. And emotion is a key component of human behavior. Our exhibit includes caricature from nineteenth century Mexico, the American Civil War, and eighteenth century Britain.

Gillray 2

Caricaturists use techniques such as symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony to convey ideas, opinions, etc. The image above is by James Gillray (from 1790s), considered to be one of the best political caricaturists in Britain’s history. His use of exaggeration (i.e., features which are overdone and overblown) is especially pronounced, as well as humorous. And his employment of symbolism is complex and multi-layered.

With this in mind, when discussing caricaturists, on one level the artists are themselves performing (creating a narrative through one or several of the techniques previously mentioned). On another level the audience (reader) is also involved in the performance adding meaning to the narrative of the creator. This interaction can reveal a great deal about the social world in which they inhabit, and their relationship to it.

la orquestaiii i_0003

Our exhibit also features an array of wonderful and fascinating images of actors posing, dancing, and singing. It runs through the end of October, 2019. We hope to see you there.


Special Event

The last Wednesday of October Sutro Library will be hosting a very special event: Inside the SFSU Actor’s Studio. It will feature advanced San Francisco State University theater students using the original text of Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623, to workshop performing a scene. The second part of the event will have these actors actually perform 3-4 scenes. We hope to see you there. Refreshments will be provided.



Online Sources Used

What Makes Us Humans? Yaron Lifschitz on Contemporary Circus

Theatre, Performance and Society




We Carry On

One of the biggest challenges for libraries and archives is storing unusual formats. Miniature books, over-sized books measuring between what could be anywhere from 23 to 50 inches tall, ephemeral pieces like small, slim pamphlets, handbills and posters all pose unique storage considerations for libraries and archives. Often, these unusual formats are stored with each other since it is safer to store large books together rather than having large books potentially crushing smaller, more fragile items.  One unusual format that is challenging for Sutro Library is oversized flat materials. Like many archives, we store our flat items such as blueprints, posters, or this map of 1745 map of Louisiana, together in flat files:

Lousiana map

Safely transporting these items for patron use is a struggle. Our flat files are located some distance from the 5th floor reading room where patrons use these materials. This means that Sutro staff have had to page or retrieve oversized items from remote storage and traverse through many doors to get the items to the patron.   Ideally, we would have a rolling cart big enough to move large items flat but then we would have to store this large cart somewhere when it is not needed—and space in an archives is a valuable commodity.  Needless to say, trying to walk with a map that is 48 x 36 inches through a standard door or elevator is a unique challenge.

This past spring, with the assistance of the California State Library Foundation, we were able to commission a custom map carrier to be made for us. Based on a map carrier Stanford University Library’s Conservation Department made for their special collections department, we asked Sarah Elson, a professional conservator, to make a replica for our use:


Our new map carrier allows us to safely put a large, flat item into the holder, tie it closed, and tuck the carrier comfortably under one’s arm. The handle allows the person to keep their arm straight and in a neutral position, giving ergonomic comfort and control of the carrier as one moves through the building:


Having this carrier available allows us to safely move our large rare materials safely between our locations and will ensure their safety for years to come.  As the Library of Congress states, proper handling any collection item, is one of the more effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures.

We would like to extend our thanks to Peter Whidden at Stanford University Libraries Special Collections and Archives for allowing Sarah Elson to view and measure their carrier.  We would also like to thank our Foundation for funding this important project.

This post and all of the images are by Mattie Taormina, Director, Sutro Library.


Woodward’s Gardens: A Trip into the Past

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Julian Marasigan, who recently graduated from SF State University with a B.A. in History. Julian volunteered at the Sutro Library in Spring 2019 and worked on the description for the Woodward’s Gardens collection finding aid. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

Original Woodward’s Gardens letterhead

According to Bancroft’s Tourist’s Guide:

Woodward’s Gardens are on the west side of Mission Street, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth. This famous resort is both park and garden, and much more besides. Its fences enclose nearly six acres, but its actual surface considerably surpasses that area, from the fact that the hill-slopes and terraces, with the various floors and galleries of the different buildings really double or even triple the original surface beneath, so that, if spread upon one level, they would cover thousands of square feet more. They thus rival any public square in size and far surpass it in variety and beauty.–Bancroft’s Tourist’s Guide Yosemite. San Francisco and Around the Bay, (South.) San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Company, 1871

The description above is from the entry for Woodward’s Gardens found in Bancroft’s Tourist’s Guide. San Francisco and Around the Bay (South) entry on Woodward’s Gardens. Woodward’s Gardens was a major pleasure garden located in San Francisco during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Garden’s were opened in 1866 by Robert Woodward, a local entrepreneur who made his money through operating a supply store during the gold rush and the owning of a hotel, called the What Cheer House. After opening the estate as Woodward’s Gardens, Robert Woodward and his family moved to his estate, Oak Knolls, in Napa. Once the Gardens were opened to the public it became a place for celebration and education. Within its walls was a zoo, an aquarium, a museum, an art gallery, a library, a green house, rotary boats, hot air balloons rides, a skating rink/pavilion/amphitheater, mosque replica, outdoor gymnasium, and camera obscura. Woodward’s Gardens was open to the public from 1866 until it was closed by Robert Woodward’s heirs (Robert Woodward himself passed away in 1879) in 1891 with the property being divided into lots and much of the art and books purchased by Adolph Sutro.

I started this semester with no idea who Robert Woodward was or what Woodward’s Gardens was. Now as the semester comes to a close, I have learned so much but still have many questions. This one collection of letters could give me a lifetime of research.

Throughout the semester I learned how to properly handle historic documents. I learned how to research different questions as they came up. I learned that handwriting is sometimes easy to read and sometimes hard to read. I learned a lot about not just Woodward’s Gardens but the entire culture around pleasure gardens and the fascination of people in the latter nineteenth century with natural wonders. What had started out as just simply writing what each letter was about became something of a massive learning experience.

One of the interesting things that this collection of letters provided was physical evidence of history. From letters written from P.T. Barnum to a letter written from the consul of Hawaii, concrete evidence of the past abounded in this collection.


Letterhead and letter from the Consulate of Hawaii. A reminder that the state of Hawaii was once its own country.

The letters from P.T. Barnum’s circus were an interesting piece of history. Not only do they describe how to build a circus ring, they also show the evolution of P. T. himself. Initially, P.T. Barnum became well known for his museum/circus but in the course of two years his letterhead went from focusing on the attractions to focusing on Barnum himself.

This idea that Barnum knew his name was part of the attraction is confirmed by one of the letters I found in the collection written by Ann E. Leak.

Letter from Ann E. Leak, an arm less woman, written entirely by foot

Ann E. Leak was a woman born without arms. She learned to do things like write and braid hair with her feet.  After the Civil War she helped support her family through exhibiting herself with various showmen. One of these showmen was P.T. Barnum. In the above letter Ms. Leak mentions that Barnum does not pay well because he knows his name draws a crowd.  After finding this letter I did some more research and found out that although she never exhibited at Woodward’s Gardens she did eventually make it out to California. Furthermore, my research showed that she eventually got married and had a child while in her 40s and continued to tour the world.

This letter from Ms. Leak, along with several others that I found talking about “freaks”, became a research topic and paper for a class I was taking this semester all about monsters and monstrosities. In this history class we looked at monsters from a historic perspective, what fears they represent, and why the monster never dies. Part of this course covered the idea of the human oddity or “freak.” My paper focused on why people became interested in freaks and why the freak-show became so popular in the mid-nineteenth century. I was able to use several letters from this collection as primary sources, giving me first-hand archival research, something rare while still an undergradate student.

Leak signature
Signature of Ann E. Leak

Most of the writing I encountered while working with this collection was legible, but sometimes hard to read because of the cursive script. Some letters had absolutely gorgeous handwriting. Others on the other hand, were hard to read and required a lot of time to look at and try to decipher what was written.

One of the challenging to read letters

As I processed this collection I encountered many questions which included:

Why were sea lions a popular animal for people to request Mr. Woodward to get them? Why is rollerskating so popular? What did Mr. Woodward do to make all his money? Where did all the animals come from? How did people know to write to Mr. Woodward to try and get their curiosities bought? How popular was Woodward’s Gardens? What did the gardens look like?

These and so many other questions came up as I did my work and lead me to go out and do further research on my own. I found several sources describing Woodward’s Gardens such as the Bancroft’s Tourist’s Guide and The Illustrated Guide and Catalogue of Woodward’s Gardens. Both of these were published while the Gardens were still opened and provide insight into the gardens and their content.

Cover of the Illustrated Guide and Catalogue of Woodward’s Gardens

My outside research took me to many different online sources and to the San Francisco Public Library which has two copies of the Illustrated Guide and Catalogue of Woodward’s Gardens in their collection.

Overall, processing the Woodward’s Gardens collection gave me not only an amazing learning experience but also furthered my knowledge of the Bay Area (particularly San Francisco) in the nineteenth century and the entertainment available to people here.

To conclude I want to quote once again from the Bancroft’s Tourist’s Guide:

We have now completed the general tour of this elegant park, with its delightful    combination of the beautiful in nature and the wonderful in art, with the rarest curiosities of both. As a broad and airy holiday play-ground for tired pupils, as a romantic retreat for family picnics, as a pleasure-park for the quiet promenades of old and young, as a varied field of study for the naturalist, as one of the lungs through which the tired and dusty city  may draw a cool, refreshing, healthful breath, and, finally, as a grand union of park, garden, conservatory, museum, gymnasium, zoological grounds and art gallery, no eastern city offers the equal of Woodward’s Gardens.


Julian Marasigan, SF State History undergraduate class of 2019

If you are interested in seeing the Woodward’s Gardens collection, please email two business days in advance of your visit. The finding aid can be found here

Additionally, the California State Library has additional books and photographs of the Gardens that can be found by searching the online catalog.



Libel Variants

July 3 seems as good a day as any to take a closer look at Sutro Library’s copy of Common Sense, Thomas Paine’s political tract which argued in favor of independence for British North American colonies.[1]

The first copies to emerge from Robert Bell’s Philadelphia print shop early in 1776 did so anonymously, and with good reason: Paine’s seditious text was a direct challenge to the British monarchy and charged King George III with tyranny. The text was immensely popular and numerous reprints help spread it across the colonies as well as Europe, including England.

Title page to Sutro Library’s copy of Common Sense

Sutro Library’s copy of Common Sense is from one of the four editions by London publisher J. Almon. There are significant differences between the texts of the U.S. and British editions. Almon stood to profit a great deal from publishing what was essentially an international political bestseller, but numerous alterations were needed to avoid charges of libeling the King and stay out of jail. Writing for the Common Sense Digital British Edition[2], Marie Pellissier notes that “in all, J. Almon made nearly twenty changes to the text, removing savage attacks on the King and his ministers, and making additions to soften some of Paine’s rhetoric.”[3] This is no ordinary sort of censorship. Sentences are interrupted with blank spaces, these visual silences marking removed passages. Not at all inconspicuous, the omissions add drama and intrigue, like extensive bleep censoring on a television show—you can’t hear it, but you know it’s there. Such audible or visual censure has all the appeal of tip-toeing around something dangerous, revolting, clandestine, and forbidden. Even more exciting about Sutro’s copy is that someone has manually replaced the missing text.[4]


When differences are observed across multiple copies of a single edition, those copies are said to exist in variant states. Errors corrected (like a misspelled word, if it was noticed), or a sentence or paragraph added or removed, in the middle of a print run result in two versions, or variants, of what were intended to be the same thing. It’s important to note that “variant” in a bibliographical sense often refers to differences found among copies in a single edition (multiple copies produced in the same time and place), and Sutro Library’s copy of Common Sense represents an entirely different edition than, say, Robert Bell’s (both were produced in their respective places and time). However, because its transmission from Philadelphia to London produced textual changes, I think of Almon’s Common Sense as an example of a “libel variant.” This distinguishes its variations from those introduced by authors, editors, compositors, pressmen, or the mechanics of printing, and refocuses on the legal, and therefore societal, nature of alterations to the text.

Almon may not have printed the particularly seditious bits, but he still informs his readers something is missing. The way Almon’s edition of Common Sense announces itself through absence is a wonderful illustration of how multiple forces converge on books: people, like authors, editors, and printers; technology, like standing type and printing presses, which helped spread the work; and legal structures, like libel laws that made it necessary for Almon to censor and modify the text to mitigate the risks he faced.

I find libel variant a useful term also because it creates associations between books that might otherwise be much more difficult to imagine. Libel variants are still being produced, as we see in Jarett Kobek’s 2016 novel I Hate the Internet.[5] Libel laws prevented Kobek’s British publisher from printing certain sections without also facing the threat of costly lawsuits. Rather than silencing the offending passages, they have been blacked out (redacted, bleeped) so that the reader is aware that something is being censored and a page-long note from the author explains why this was done.[6] Libel variants can be, and often are, more subtle, like Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things; its subtitle, “How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,” was changed to “…Cornered Culture and What It Means For All Of Us” for the British edition.

Though separated by 240 years, Common Sense and I Hate the Internet met the challenge of censorship, which in both cases stemmed from anti-libel laws, in a way that used redaction to call out to the reader in a playful manner. Interestingly, these variations usually do not make themselves known. The reader has to notice them by comparing multiple copies. It is tempting to assume that two editions of the same work published in countries that share a language will have identical content.[7] Libel variants are reminders of the many forces that physically and intellectually shape what and how we read.

Jose Guerrero is Sutro Library’s Cataloging & Metadata Librarian.

[1] The Sutro copy is bound with a reply by John Chalmer’s titled Plain Truth.

[2] This website, as its name suggests, gives users the opportunity to read the British edition of Common Sense as a transcription or from digitized surrogates.


[4] The manuscript restoration of these passages can be compared to unmarked copies on the Common Sense Digital British Edition website:

[5] The idea that libel laws produce textual variation is borrowed from Kobek himself, who noted in an interview that he observed this while reading a British edition of George Foreman’s autobiography.

[6] While I have not compared the two editions word by word, the comparisons I have made suggest that the U.K. and U.S. editions are, superficially at least, identical except for the redacted parts.

[7] An interesting recent example of different versions across US and UK editions, though unrelated to libel laws, is discussed in Martin Paul Eve’s “‘You Have to Keep Track of Your Changes’: The Version Variants and Publishing History of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. 

These boots are made for….books!

The 1965 song, “These boots are made for walking,” was full of female swagger. The recorded footage of Nancy Sinatra singing the song shows her and her backup dancers sporting some sleek, black go-go boots, very popular at the time.

boots.JPGNancy Sinatra and her backup dancers’ boots

When it comes to boots for books, however, we want our swagger to be less bewitching and a little more sturdy, reminiscent of a 1970s punk rock work boot perhaps.

Modern punkModern Punk Girl circa 2018, photo courtesy of Jaconon

Are boots for books a thing? They are at the Sutro Library!  In the “If the Shoe Fits…” blog post published on January 3rd, I detailed the new bespoke book shoes our limp vellum books were getting thanks to Alan Scardera, Allison Bermann, and Allie Marotta, our intrepid SF State student volunteers. Phase one of this project was to get all the limp vellum bound books into a book shoe—a kind of box that is made out of conservation grade cardboard that supplies support for the books. From October 2018 to April 2019, the student volunteers made 113 shoes in seven months.

Not all of our limp vellum books could get a shoe, however, due to fragility or decorations that would not allow the books to easily slip in and out of the shoe without causing further damage to the book’s bindings. We could only move forward on phase two of the project once a storage solution was found for the fragile and/or decorated books.

Ties on Vellum bookLimp vellum book with leather ties remaining

damaged vellum bookLimp vellum book with severely damaged cover and fraying headcap

damaged no boardsBook missing both covers with sewn spine visible

Allie Marotta, one of the SF State student volunteers, tackled the problem by developing a new structure we are calling the book boot.

IMG_7570.JPGAn empty book boot created by Allie Marotta

The book boot looks a lot like the book shoe but with some critical differences. First, the boot has protective blue board covering the top part, or head edge as it is called, of the book.books.jpgShelved vellum books in shoes and boots

Second, the boot opens up like a clam. This allows the user to place the book inside the boot and then close the lid safely before tying up the ties, thereby making a complete and tight structure for the book:


The clam part of the structure is key as it will not cause rubbing or undue stress to the book as it is being removed and replaced from the structure.

Once phase two of this project is complete, we will move on to the final stage which will be to create shoes or boots for the limp vellum bound folio and tiny-sized books. While the project will pause over summer break, the students have already made 26 boots, and we look forward to fall semester when they return and take up the project again–just in time for darker days, colder nights, and boot season!


This post and all but one of the images are by Mattie Taormina, Director, Sutro Library.

Images of the Industrial Revolution – New Exhibit at Sutro Library

steam roller

The Industrial Revolution got its start in England in the latter part of the eighteenth century. It was in a unique position, because although coal had been used as a fuel previously, it wasn’t until the steam engine was improved upon by Scottish born James Watt that its demand exploded. This innovation coupled with the abundance of coal in the British Isles helped Great Britain to lead the world in technological innovation and manufacturing.

mexico train 2

Our new exhibit takes a deep dive into Sutro Library’s extensive collection of books and artifacts from, and relating to, the Industrial Revolution. Sutro Library is rich in materials from the nineteenth century on scientific works, illustrated newspapers and magazines, engineering manuals, and ephemera. The images speak to not only the industry and creativity occurring, but also reflect the underlying turmoil being wrought throughout every corner of society. The nineteenth century was a time of change in every facet of life: culture, politics, and technology, and this exhibit explores both the micro and macro level in which the Victorians experienced it.

news boys 1871

One facet that becomes evident from the materials on display is that this period provided men and women in Britain access to a “dizzying range of material things.” This was as a direct result of the improvements in transportation and manufacturing technology. Furthermore, it was a heady time, and a feeling that humanity could solve any problem or ailment through the application of science and technology, filled the air.


ad asthma

With the intent on demonstrating England’s status as the world leader in technology, the decision was made to hold what was officially called The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. The event was planned by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. It showcased products from Canada, America, France, Russia, and many other countries. On display were marvels of engineering such as steam engines, printing presses, and locomotives along with exotic goods and raw materials from across the British colonies, next to moving machinery and musical instruments.

great exhib

workers palace


The ‘Great Exhibition’ was held in a massive glass and steel greenhouse, of which pictures of the construction are on display in the current exhibit. The building itself was meant to illustrate Britain’s dominance in engineering. It also shed light on Britain’s success in arts, science and inventions, and included pottery, porcelain, ironwork, furniture, perfumes, pianos, firearms, fabrics, steam hammers, hydraulic presses and even several houses.

good view palace


Apart from images from the world fairs of the time, the exhibit includes cultural images, architectural drawings, illustrations, and photographs. It runs through the end of July 2019 and is located on the 5th floor of the Sutro Library –  J. Paul Leonard Library on the campus of San Francisco State University.

To see online exhibit visit:

queen at opening palace



Winter is here…at Sutro Library!

Warning: If you aren’t caught up to season 7, this blog post may have a few spoilers!

Adolph Sutro all dressed up and ready for the pop-up!

In our excitement for the final season of Game of Thrones, Sutro Library teamed up with the J. Paul Leonard Library to host a pop-up exhibit where we shared historic resources related to the themes and imagery of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (the source material for the show).  Even though the series is based on medieval English history (e.g. War of Roses), Sutro Library made connections to various titles found within our special collections from military maneuvers to historic figures that closely match the characters. The pop-up brought in more than 80 people—a mix of students, staff, faculty and the general public. All attendees seemed highly engaged in the materials on display. Rather than perusing, many stayed to look deeply at the books, asked us questions, and took pictures of the text plates with the bibliographic information. Some attendees even came back to view the exhibit a second time!

1) Sutro Librarian, Diana Kohnke; 2) Guests lining up to view exhibit; 3) SFSU Special Collections Librarian, Meredith Eliassen; 4) More pop-up materials!

Here are some of the materials we displayed during the pop-up as well as their connections to Game of Thrones: (Click on images to enlarge)

Der aller durchleuchtigisten und grossmächtigen kayser königen and erthzhertzogen… by Jacob Schrenk von Notzing (1603) is full of woodcuts illustrating armor of history’s important military leaders collected by Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol. The collection itself is in the Museum of Art History in Vienna. For those who aren’t able to visit Vienna anytime soon, the amount of detail seen in each illustration will suffice. Some leaders found in this volume include Charles V and Cosimo de Medici. In GoT, each of the houses had signature armor often relating back to their sigil, for example House Tully had armor that looked like fish fins and the armor Jaime Lannister wears has a lion’s face on his shoulders. It would be interesting to see which armor in this volume looks the most like those worn by the various houses in GoT!

From the Tiny Town section (books under 13.99cm) of our Special Collections, we found Le Dragon de l’ile de Rhodes by Fredrich Schiller (1829), a book about a mythical dragon living on the island of Rhodes in 1340. Towards the end of the book, there are illustrations showing the knight, Dieudonné de Gozon slaying the dragon. After that he became known as Extinctor Draconis which is Latin for “dragon slayer.” In GoT, the Night King gains this title when he kills one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion. What will happen to the remaining two in the final season?

While there are several notable women in GoT skilled in leadership and fighting, Brienne of Tarth, a warrior currently loyal to Sansa Stark, has the most overt connection to Joan of Arc. In Jeanne d’Arc: Ed. illustrée d’après les monuments de l’art depuis le quinzième siècle jusqu’à nos jours by Henri Wallon (1876), there are various illustrations including a few gorgeous chromolithographs depicting this historic figure.

The next is probably one of our favorites (second to the book of armor): Natural Magick: in XX Bookes by John Baptista Porta (1658). A work of popular science first published in Naples in 1558. Not a book of magic spells as the name would suggest, but rather an anthology of natural wonders observed by the author and written in a time when science was still in its infancy. It provides a perspective based on the known world. Once you get over the “s” looking like an “f” in some of the words, it makes for a fascinating read! To assist with navigation through the text, pages were bookmarked with Game of Thrones references, from how to change your hair color like Sansa does from red to black to observations on Greek Fire. In the show, Greek Fire is known as Wild Fire, and it was used by Tyrion in the Battle of Blackwater Bay as well as by Cersei Lannister to destroy her enemies in the Sept of Baelor.

Lion crests in Royal Book of Crests…

Lastly, we had a couple of books from our family & local history collection. One was a book on heraldry, Royal book of crests of Great Britain & Ireland, Dominion of Canada, India & Australasia : derived from best authorities by James Fairbairn and Joseph MacLaren (1883). Various crests similar to the house sigils in GoT were bookmarked. One particular crest that drew everyone’s curiosity was the above image of a lion attacking a dragon. It left many of us wondering if this is foreshadowing what’s to come in this final season!

There you have it, a small sampling of what we displayed in our pop-up on Wednesday April 10th days before the final season premieres. It was so much fun, and we can’t wait for our next pop-up! If you have any suggestions, send them our way!

A huge thank you goes out to: our colleagues from J. Paul Leonard Library, the Sutro Library staff; all of our volunteers assistance; and our colleagues from Sacramento, Karina and Olena!

List of other materials shown in the pop-up:

  1. Carta de la Tierra Prometida [Map of the Promised Land] by Joseph Andrade (1752)
  2. The Dragon Empress: the life and times of Tzʻu-hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835-1908 by Marina Warner (1972)
  3. De Re Military by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (1532)
  4. The book of fate, formerly in the possession of Napoleon … now first rendered into English from a German translation of an ancient Egyption manuscript, found in the year 1801 by H. Kirchenhoffer (1828)
  5. Memoir on swords by Colonel Marey translated by Lieut.-Col. Henry Hamilton Maxwell (1860)
  6. C. Julij des ersten Rö. Keysers/ warhafftige beschreibunge aller namhafften fürtrefflichen kriege/ by Julius Cesar (1565)
  7. William the Conqueror coat of arms
  8. Braid of hair belonging to Charlotte Ferretti (circa 1938)
  9. Breviarium romanum ex decreto sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini restitutum… Pars autumnalis by the Catholic Church (1774)
  10. A display of heraldrie: manifesting a more easie access to the knowledge therof then hath hitherto been published by any, through the benefit of method by John Guillim (1660)

If you’d like to view any of the materials, please email us at and give us at least 2 business days advance notice of your visit. 

This post was written by Sutro Library’s Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.