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 sutro@library.ca.gov two business days in advance of your visit. The finding aid can be found here  https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8jw8mpw/

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.

[3] https://explorecommonsense.com/exhibits/show/essay1/essay1

[4] The manuscript restoration of these passages can be compared to unmarked copies on the Common Sense Digital British Edition website: https://explorecommonsense.com/collections/show/1

[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.https://olh.openlibhums.org/article/10.16995/olh.82/ 

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 sutro@library.ca.gov 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.

The Sutro Script Mystery: From Hand Calligraphy to Digital Fonts

A mystery begins with a brief, intriguing paragraph preserved in the Sutro Library scrapbooks. On February 15, 1963, Sutro Library’s legendary Librarian Richard H. Dillon, was quoted in the California State Library’s newsletter The Friday Intercom:

“Mr. Dorsey Alexander, a young calligrapher from Berkeley, has created a new ‘hand’ or alphabet script, which he hopes to use in advertising layouts. The script is based on some of the manuscript hands in volumes in the Sutro Library Renaissance Room collection, and out of gratitude, Mr. Alexander has called the new hand ‘Sutro Script.’ Mr. Alexander wrote Richard Dillon: ‘I am enclosing an alphabet modernized but inspired by the manuscripts you kindly allowed us to study. This note, of course, is written in the same hand. I am calling it Sutro Script because that seems appropriate.’”

What manuscripts could have inspired Mr. Alexander, and perhaps his friends—for he does say “…you kindly allowed us to study”? When they visited the Sutro Library Collection in 1963, was their focus the rare Yemenite Hebrew manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries, or the brilliantly colored, illuminated manuscripts from the European monasteries of the Middle Ages? Perhaps it was the hand-written Italian documents from Venetian families of the 15th to 17th centuries, or the incunabula collection of early printings from the 1460’s onward that sparked inspiration. Maybe it was the striking Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, or the Chinese trade painting books and scrolls from the mid-19th century they viewed. Could it have been one of the codices of Techialoyan manuscripts, an item in the Mexican Collection, or the broadside advertising posters from the Sutro Baths collection?   

The Sutro Library Collection holds them all. It could have been any one, or several, of them!

At this time, the location of that 1963 letter from Mr. Alexander to Mr. Dillon illustrating the new “Sutro Script” hand is unknown. That note to Librarian Richard H. Dillon is the only reference to a script named in honor of the Sutro Collection we have found to date. Until the letter is discovered, the exact appearance of the script may remain a mystery. Was Mr. Dorsey Alexander’s “Sutro Script” employed by other calligraphers after 1963, and might it live on in advertising layouts past and present?

Starting with the man himself, an Internet search of the name “Mr. Dorsey Alexander” offers some promising items. WorldCat lists a book titled Spring, “Hand lettered and designed by Dorsey P. Alexander” 16 unnumbered pages, published in Berkeley, CA (1963) by Cody’s Books.

The Turtle’s Quill Scriptorium (originally located at 1290 Queens Rd., Berkeley, CA) is identified as the publisher of several charmingly titled books including Zooabet in 1967, Birds in 1968 by Joyce and Dorsey Alexander, and The Sea: Excerpts from Herman Melville published Christmas 1969, limited edition of 300, woodcuts by Joyce Alexander, text lettered by Dorsey Alexander.

By 1978 the Turtle’s Quill Scriptorium had relocated to Mendocino, CA. The Princeton Alumni Weekly of May 8, 1978 noted on p. 56, regarding the Class of ’37: “Dorsey Alexander is retired to Mendocino, CA where he and his wife, Joyce, have a publishing venture, ‘Turtle’s Quill Scriptorium,’ which has already published 15 books. He does the calligraphy while Joyce does the illustration.” Publications from that time and location include: Thaddeus: A Factual Account of the Founding of the First Mouse Symphony, by Joyce Alexander, Dorsey Alexander, 1978; Happy Bird Day & Poems, Woodcuts/Calligraphy by Joyce and Dorsey Alexander, 1980; A Flurry of Angels from Literature, Illustration by Joyce Alexander, Calligraphy by Dorsey Alexander, 1986; and A Packet of Rhymes: Scottish and English Folk Poetry from the Nursery, Linocuts by Joyce Alexander, Calligraphy by Dorsey Alexander, 1989.

Dorsey P. Alexander died January 18, 2009, in Mendocino, CA. A memorial published online on January 29, 2009 described him as an “expert calligrapher [who] produced over 24 books with his wife, Joyce, as illustrator under the name ‘Turtle’s Quill Scriptorium.’”

If this Mr. Alexander was indeed the “young calligrapher” who studied manuscripts in the Sutro Collection in 1962 or 1963, he appears to have lived a very productive life working in calligraphy design and book publishing. There are no references to advertising layout design or his Sutro Script. Is there a Sutro Script hand alphabet out there, somewhere?

Where does an Internet search for “Sutro Script” and “calligraphy” lead? It takes us to “fonts” and “families of fonts,” and then — “Sutro Family of Fonts”! Here we meet an energetic graphic designer by the name of Jim Parkinson.

Based in Oakland, CA and founder of Parkinson Type Design, Mr. Parkinson has been prolific in his career of type and font design, spanning nearly 55 years. Jim Parkinson’s Wikipedia page states he studied advertising design and painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and graduated in 1963. He worked for Hallmark Cards for a time, then returned to Oakland and freelanced as a lettering artist doing work for rock bands, sign painting, advertisements, and packaging.

Where does the Sutro Family of Fonts come in? Quoting Parkinson’s Wikipedia page:

“Although Parkinson’s lettering sensibility is rooted in old wood type and signage from the 19th century and during the first part of his career he used pen and ink for finished pieces, in 1990 Parkinson put away his pen and ink and embraced digital technology while working for the San Francisco Chronicle, designing fonts.”

“Sutro” is among the 39 typefaces designed by Jim Parkinson listed in the Wikipedia article at:


Ah-ha! A Sutro Digital Family of Fonts exists!

According to Parkinson’s website, the “Sutro Family” of fonts was designed in 2003 and evolved out of Parkinson’s work with Slab Serifs. Over time he has been “adding some things and dressing it up a little.” This typeface now has fourteen styles, published by Parkinson Type Design. The type is available at:


In broad strokes, both Alexander and Parkinson were studying in the Berkeley and Oakland area in 1963. Perhaps they knew each other? Richard Dillon describes Dorsey Alexander as a “young calligrapher from Berkeley who has created a new ‘hand.’” If our Mr. Alexander was in the Princeton Class of 1937, and graduated at approximately age 22, that would have made him about 48 years of age in 1963. Jim Parkinson would have been 21 or 22 years old in 1963.

We know Dorsey Alexander, and possibly someone else given the “us” mentioned in his letter, came to Sutro to view the manuscripts in the Renaissance Room in 1962 or early 1963. It could have been Alexander’s wife Joyce Tocher Parkinson, or a friend like Jim Parkinson, or someone else—including an entire class of students! Ahh, the possibilities!

Dorsey Alexander remained a respected calligrapher throughout his career, and sadly we have no examples of his Sutro script design. Jim Parkinson began as a pen and ink calligrapher and moved into digital technology for font design in 1990, publishing the Sutro Family of fonts in 2003. Perhaps this font family was originally inspired by material in the Sutro collection—or is the name coincidence only?  I wonder…

Our search continues for the letter from Dorsey P. Alexander to Librarian Richard H. Dillon, thanking Dillon for access to the Sutro collection and illustrating his new hand, “Sutro Script.”

Who doesn’t love a mystery?

This blog post was written by Sutro Library’s wonderful volunteer, Pat Munoz.

Greetings, From Sutro Library!

She also spoke of puzzling over artifacts “until their language became clear.” All artifacts can be read, once their language is learned, for what they have to tell about their own production and about the place they held in the lives of those who previously possessed them.[1]

My name is Jose Guerrero, and I have just joined the California State Library as the Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for their San Francisco branch known as the Sutro Library. My job is to make sure that the magnificent holdings of the Sutro Library are accurately described so that researchers from near and far know what we have and can request to view it in our reading room! I moved here from central Pennsylvania, but I was born and raised in East Los Angeles and graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. I also worked for antiquarian booksellers in San Francisco for several years. It’s been wonderful getting to know my new colleagues at the California State Library and San Francisco State University, as well as getting reacquainted with this city!

In the above quote, G. Thomas Tanselle is referencing Ana Somers Cocks, formerly a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I first read “Libraries, Museums and Reading,” from which this passage is taken, many years ago and the words “puzzling over artifacts” never left me. As a cataloger, I am not necessarily supposed to assemble the puzzle, but I do make sure that all the pieces are there. Author names are like corner-pieces, subject headings are like the picture on the box that give you an idea of what it looks like put together, and physical descriptions make sure that pieces from different puzzles aren’t mixed together.[2]

I am excited to work with the Sutro Library’s antiquarian collection because there is much for our users—students of San Francisco State University, the people of California at large, and visiting scholars—to read and discover. Books held an important place in the life of Adolph Sutro, and the people who owned his books before him. “A book must be opened,” Tanselle writes, “simply to look at it fully as an object, for without examining the paper that makes up its bulk, and the inked markings on that paper, one has seen only a small fraction of the object.” I hope to facilitate this kind of interactive experience—of opening, examining, and interpreting texts—among our readers and visitors. If you don’t think of books as interactive technology, here are some reasons to reconsider:

“Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues” is a book made entirely of advertisements for books taken from other 17th and 18th century British books. The volume’s disbound leaves create an entirely new object reflecting, perhaps, interest in certain printers or eras of printing.  Sutro had a voracious appetite for books from this period, as the thousands of 17th and 18th century English pamphlets he amassed can attest to.

Legal printing, though often overlooked, is charged with meaning as this 1901 Mexican legal brief demonstrates. It looks like a book, but the pages are perpendicular to the spine. It may have been a mock-up, or galley proof, used by an editor to make corrections. Or, it could be a temporary binding  meant to get the text to the bindery and bound in more durable covers. Joined at the rear are scraps of the newspaper Regeneracion, edited by Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, from August and October issues for 1900. Though deteriorated,[3] the crumbling newsprint preserves a possible link between the printer, Eduardo Dublan, the legal printer who was active in liberal politics of the time, and Magon.[4] These contemporaries both produced commentary on the politics of the porfiriato (the name given to the era that Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz was in power), one as a printer and the other as a journalist. Printed objects interact with the society that produces them, as well as collectors and readers and binders and libraries.

Let’s return to “Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues.” A sequence of  advertisements for Scottish printers Robert and Andrew Foulis opens with a handwritten caption: “Commenced business in 1740 – issued beautiful editions of the Classics.” One of these “beautiful editions” is De consolatione philosophiae, a 6th century philosophical work that was popular throughout medieval Europe. The Sutro copy bears the bookplate and handwritten commentary of Francisco Lopez Portillo, a colonial administrator in 18th century Guadalajara. It is also marked with the firebrand of the conventual library of San Francisco de Mexico. Enhancing the Sutro catalog record with descriptive information will help this book—not just the text, but the firebrand and bookplate and inscription too—move into the hands of its next user; the next step of an already long journey from 6th century treatise, to medieval bestseller, to the Glasgow printing office of the Foulis brothers, to colonial Mexico, to San Francisco, California.

Soon, much of what you just read about Sutro Library materials will be in our catalog which can be searched from virtually anywhere in the world. I am eager to play my part in the discovery process, and assist my colleagues whose instruction and outreach efforts have already done so much to help our materials tell their stories through exhibitions, classes, and volunteer opportunities. I hope to share more of the Sutro’s holdings in the future—in person and through this blog—as I continue to learn about our collection and community!

Jose Cruz Guerrero, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Sutro Library

[1] Tanselle, G.T. Libraries, Museums and Reading. Charlottesville, VA: Book Arts Press, 1992. First delivered as a talk, the audio is now available through the Rare Book School’s SoundCloud page along with many other presentations.

[2] This too can have interesting results, as Harvard librarian John Overholt has recently pointed out!

[3] Digitized copies are available at Archivo Magon. It was by referring to these scanned versions that I was able to date the newspaper scraps, whose dates have all been chopped off.

[4] When the Mexican government outlawed the printing of Magon’s writings, he relocated to the United States and became a central figure in the anarchist movement of southern California.

“Dad al César lo que es del César”

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Carlos Tapia, a Sutro student volunteer and a student at SF State University majoring in History. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

“Dad al César lo que es del César, y a Dios lo que es de Dios”. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. These words were preached in a sermon delivered by Father Pedro Josef Mendizabal on September 30, 1810 in Queretaro, Mexico.

carlos 1
Title page of Fr. Mendizabal’s sermon

It was delivered just a couple days after Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous “Cry of Dolores” (El Grito de Dolores), which incited Mexico’s war for independence. However, unlike Hidalgo’s speech for an independent Mexico, Mendizabal’s sermon stressed the need for the suppression of Mexican revolutionaries. While delivering his sermon, Mendizabal wastes no time in vilifying the revolutionary insurgents and reiterates that the people must remain loyal to their faithful king. Although Mendizabal’s stance is from a religious point of view, it nonetheless offers intriguing insight into the relationship between religion and monarchy as well as how faithful the Catholic Church was to King Ferdinand. Thus the words, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, perfectly summarizes Mendizabal and the Church’s stance on the Mexico’s independence movement.



The beginning paragraphs of Mendizabal’s sermon, which comprise the first reading, is where the majority of his arguments are presented and in my opinion is where my curiosity spiked. Like any religious figure would begin speaking, Mendizabal warns his audience of a grave threat, of people who pretend to be Catholic worshipers but in reality are wolves in sheep clothing. In turn, the people must take up arms, just as the Archangel Michael did, and destroy the enemies of peace. He follows this up by asking the people whose rosette and cockades do the people wear and whose image is featured on the Spanish Medallion? Mendizabal answers, “King Fernando of course, ‘Rey Catolico de España y de las Indias’. Thus give to King Fernando what is his, and to God what is his” (Mendizabal 2). The entirety of Mendizabal’s sermon can be attributed to that specific prayer of Caesar, which again emphasizes the relationship between God and a monarch. Mendizabal asks another question which goes as follows, “Can we, with clarity, become true vassals of Fernando, uphold the rights of his throne, and be true Christians if we follow in the perverse footsteps of Dolores, de Allende, Aldama, Abasolo, and their evil minions? Not for certain, but I will state the answer in my sermon” (2). It is plainly observant that Mandizabal is strongly opposed to the Mexican insurgents and plays on the people’s fear of not being faithful Christians if they were to support such individuals. It also once again stresses the idea that any unlawful acts against the king is a direct act against God. Further on into the first reading, he once again warns the people to, “not be seduced by their promise of false happiness” and calls the named revolutionaries as disciples of the infamous Napoleon (4).


Despite Mendizabal’s outcry against Dolores and other insurgents, he somehow manages to also call for unity through an interesting approach. In a brief section, Mendizabal discusses about the history of Spanish blood ties. He mentions the Gachupin, the Spanish father, grandfather, and uncle born on the opposite side of the ocean. He also mentions the Criollo, the Spanish son, grandson, and nephew born in the New World. By enforcing the shared blood ties, Mandizabal argues that, “other than being true sons of the Church, we are also without doubt equal vassals of Fernando” (5). Mendizabal plays an interesting point regarding race, which to me is unique because it calls for unity between two distinct races that nonetheless share the same blood. He also argues that the two should not murder one another. However, he finishes the first reading by stating that if the people give to God what is God’s, “he’ll take up arms against Allende, Aldama, and the evil minions of Dolores” (6).

In the second sermon, Mendizabal explains how the ten commandments have been violated by the insurgents. The numbering of the commandments mentioned in Mendizabal’s sermon is different compared to today’s but they still mean same. Beginning with the fourth commandment of honoring your father and mother, he applies this concept to not parents born in Europe, but also towards the Spanish Sovereignty and the motherland (7-8). For the fifth commandment, which upholds the divinity of the Creator, Mandizabal argues that the insurgents have seduced those who are ignorant by encouraging ideas that contradict the commandments. Lastly, the seventh commandment that Mendizabal mentions, states that thou shall not steal. For Mendizabal’s argument, he states that the insurgents have stolen the hard sweat and work of the people and have destroyed the rights that they were born with as well as stealing the good and riches of their parents (9). Mendizabal ends his sermon with a prayer to God and calls for victory against Napoleon, to stop those that threaten to destroy the Catholic religion, and calls for peace and tranquility.

Mendizabal’s sermon was a well written transcript in that it discussed the notions between church and state in the 19th century and the racial discussion between the ganchupin and the criollo. Aside from those two discussions, what I personally thought was intriguing was drawing comparison between the American Revolution and the Mexican War for Independence from a religious standpoint. Just as Mendizabal placed heavy emphasis on King Ferdinand’s given authority from God, the same can be said between King Edward III and the Church of England. King Edward III was the head and face of the Church of England, which many colonists, especially those deeply religious, saw that any act of rebellion was an act against the Church and God. That was one revelation that heavily sparked my interest to further delve into Mendizabal’s sermon and explore what similarities and differences did the church play in both American and Mexican independence. Mendizabal’s sermon is one that will catch the attention of anyone interested in notions of religion, government, and race.

–Carlos Tapia, SFSU History undergraduate class of 2019 and student volunteer at Sutro Library

List of References:

Mendizábal y Zubialdea, Pedro Josef de.:
Sermón que en el tercer día del solemne novenario de Nuestra Señora del Pueblito conducida en secreto … /predicó … Pedro Josef de Mendizábal..
   México : Arizpe, [1810].
  11 p. ;  20 cm..

Location Sutro Library ; Vault ; BX816.M6 C65

The Marvelous Mrs. Ferretti

Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti Family Papers

I remember feeling apprehensive when I received an email from a lawyer executing a will that instructed over a dozen genealogical binders be donated to the Sutro Library. I felt this way not because I didn’t want to go through them (I am an archivist after all!) but because I feared the majority would be sent back. In the past, boxes or even trash bags of donor’s research have been known to show up without any notification or documentation denoting its origins. Sutro Library, similar to most libraries and archives, must be mindful of our space constraints, which makes us particular about the family papers we do keep: original primary sources and bound family histories. It is an uneasy and an even painful process to go through these binders knowing we cannot keep the meticulously filled out charts or copies of the original documents and other sources— all of which someone spent their lifetime researching. That isn’t to say there aren’t libraries out there who keep research notes, there are, and I will leave a few examples at the end of this post.


Now, let’s return to the two gargantuan boxes that arrived in my office housing a total of 15 black binders filled to the max with research. As I slowly began to review the contents, turning each heavy page of plastic sleeves stuffed with materials, the proverbial weight on my shoulders lightened. Among the four-generation and family unit charts, there was a narrative told through the scrapbook-like pages adorned with photos and blurbs typewritten by the donor. This was the donor’s form of a family history, and while it was not bound, it was still a fascinating collection. But wait, there’s more! In these binders, there were original manuscripts, records, photographs, objects, including a letter written by a great great grandfather and not one, but two locks of hair! One belonging to the donor herself.

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And who was this person to have such fortitude and foresight to collect her family’s papers and paraphernalia with the goal of donating them to Sutro Library? Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti born on May 16, 1932 in Fresno and died on April 30, 2018 in Madera. In addition to being a mother, a grandmother, an avid reader, a genealogist, a gardener, an equestrian, and lover of all animals, Charlotte was an exceptional family historian and archivist.

Here are more highlights from the collection curated by the marvelous Charlotte:

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The Confederate money was not the first piece within this treasure trove that caught my attention, though I did get up excitedly from my desk to show my colleagues. Rather it was a section devoted to someone who lived far more recently, Charlotte’s daughter who had died almost 30 years prior to her mother. The collection on Diane Marie includes childhood photos, diplomas and other academic certificates of achievement, and even cards drawn by her as a child.

Charlotte didn’t just provide the basic details of each family member. She also provided personal effects showcasing the family member’s personality and creativity. In her own binder, Charlotte included a drawing she sketched that won a prize in the fair as well as the pedigree chart of her horse, Sir Napa Champ.

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In another example of personal effects, along with the remarkable passport for her aunt, Vernie Gilmore, who was a nurse in World War I, Charlotte kept her aunt’s short stories and poems. One of which is a fascinating telling of her time as a nurse, titled “The Day I Knew A Miracle” personalizing this specific moment in time. And that’s really what we’re after with genealogy: the personalization and contextualization of one’s family history.

I truly am in awe by this collection and feel honored to have been the one to begin processing it. In a blurb found amongst the Confederate money, Charlotte speaks directly to her would-be repository, the Sutro Library:

“It is my hope that whomever becomes the possessor of my family history will care for this collection and keep it for the part of our country’s history that it is…”

We will fulfill Charlotte’s wish by caring for this collection and further processing it so that one day it will be accessible through a finding aid (aka inventory) enabling others to continue where she left off. Until then, the public is welcome to view these materials (some of which will have restricted access given the nature of the documents).  We ask you contact us first via email sutro@library.ca.gov and notify us at least two business days prior to your visit.


Tips for those interested in preserving and donating their family papers:

  1. Email the repository of interest first, and if they cannot accept it, they will more often than not refer you to someone who can.
  2. Compile your research into a bound volume especially if you would like to donate to Sutro Library, preferably hardbound not spiral as the latter is not a friend of long-term preservation and access. Blog post by the Library of Congress regarding this request: https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2014/01/write-your-family-history-and-send-it-to-the-library-of-congress/
  3. If you’re not ready to donate your family papers, please make sure they are housed in appropriate storage and a climate-controlled location to ensure their preservation. Feel free to contact Sutro Library if you have any questions or visit the National Archives website providing tips on preserving documents and photos: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives
  4. As mentioned above, there are libraries out there that accept research notes. Examples include: Anderson Public Library (Indiana); City of Fairfax Regional Library (Virginia); W. Dale Clark Main Library (Nebraska); and Huntington City Township Public Library (Indiana). This is not an exhaustive list, and similar to tip 1, we encourage you to reach out to local repositories, especially ones that are in the same region of where your ancestors lived.

A detailed obituary of Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti was published in the Merced Sun-Star on May 9, 2018: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mercedsunstar/obituary.aspx?n=charlotte-ferretti&pid=188906817&fhid=3879


Written by the Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.