Shakespeare on Page and Stage: Using cultural artifacts to enhance outreach and student success


Sutro Library has many truly amazing treasures; rare books, archival manuscripts, antiquarian maps, but not the least is the 1623 first printing of Shakespeare’s plays, commonly referred to as the First Folio. It is not only one of the most important books in the English language, along with the King James Bible (of which Sutro Library has a first edition), but as Kurt Daw, Professor of Theatre Arts, San Francisco State University (SFSU) says, it is legitimately “one of the most valuable material and cultural properties ever printed.” Only around 235 are known to exist, and Sutro Library has two.

first folio

Shakespeare’s plays have endured and continue to fascinate. The stories are universal, infinitely complex and nuanced, and have remained culturally relevant 400 years after they were first performed. The First Folio is the reason the world has the complete authoritative versions of his plays. Without this first printing, the world would be bereft of masterpieces such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar.


To celebrate Shakespeare and to highlight the Sutro Library it seemed fitting to reach out to SFSU’s theatre department to come up with an innovative way to present Shakespeare and the Sutro to the the larger community.

performance 1

And to that end, on the evening of October 23, 2019 the Sutro Library, in collaboration with Professor Kurt Daw, and Curator and Senior Librarian, Meredith Eliasson, of SFSU Special Collections and Archives, hosted our first ever: “Shakespeare on Page and Stage.” The event consisted of a workshop followed by live performances of scenes selected and performed by six advanced SFSU theatre students, with the First Folio on display during the performance.

performance 2

Kurt Daw worked with the department chair to offer students one credit toward their degrees to perform Shakespeare at our event. He held auditions and chose Felix Bishop, Diego Cazares, Michael Pinedo, James Schott, Thomas Scott, and Olivia Weeks-Kristie. One of the cast identifies as gender fluid, while another cast member identifies as a Trans man, each exploring gender through performance.

all female

At the workshop, Professor Daw spoke about what it would have been like for actors on the stage during Shakespeare’s lifetime. For example, wealthy patrons could buy seats on the Globe’s stage just feet away from where the actors performed. Furthermore, actors never received the entire play, rather they received only their own part, rolled up in a scroll – hence our modern parlance with reference to actor’s roles and their parts.


In Shakespeare’s company, actors were required to listen for a couple of words or lines to prompt them to act out their part.  Playing with this idea of distance both temporally and physically, Daw provided students with single parts, with prompt lines. He then had each student stand up when they heard the prompt indicating it was their time to read. This provided insight into the experience of theatre during the Elizabethan era with the challenges it must have presented for the performers.

performance 6

Professor Daw also spoke to the scholarship regarding the historicity of young boys playing the parts of women during Shakespeare’s time – because of their high voice, among other things. Rather, the reality was that there were just 12 actors, highly trained, and well-seasoned. It took years to be able to perform all the plays by memory, and be able to play more than one part in each play – which with only 12 actors in the company would have been necessary. To wit, the actors were journeymen craftsmen. In addition, actors would have been wearing contemporary clothing, and so it makes sense for modern performances to consider this when it comes to costuming.


After the workshop, refreshments were provided thanks to the generosity of SFSU University Librarian Debbie Masters. Afterwards, everyone gathered in SFSU’s Special Collections to see the performances. The actors chose scenes from Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, King John, Henry VI, Part One, Julius Caesar, and of course Macbeth. Like in Hamlet, when the actors Rosencrantz and Gildentstern profess that every play consists of three essentials which audiences want: “blood, love, and rhetoric.” To that end, the actors explored themes of gender, betrayal, friendship, courtship, murder, and war.


One performance was especially insightful, in terms of notions of gender and our cultural perception of it. The scenes involved Viola from Twelfth Night, played by trans male actor, James Schott. Viola is disguised as a man and has attracted the love and attention of her employer Countess Olivia. The same actor portrays Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who is at a loss to explain why he is the object of desire of Countess Olivia. The fact that only men would have performed this in Shakespeare’s time, gives indication that gender may have been more fluid in the past than we are given to understand.



We hope to hold this event every year, with slight variations on themes. This year the event coincided with the closing of our exhibit, “All the World is a Stage.” It also served to bring the Sutro Library to a wider audience, while at the same time illustrating the timeliness and importance of William Shakespeare’s plays, the relevance of artifacts, and some insight into Elizabethan notions of gender.

Feeling the Love

For over 50 years, genealogists have made the Sutro Library a research destination, consulting our materials both on-site and through interlibrary loan. A long standing Sutro staff member once told me that when the Sutro Library was located at 480 Winston Drive, people would line up to use the microfilm readers and every seat in the reading room would be occupied.

There is tangible evidence to support this story by looking at the condition of some of our reading room books. For many titles, we have several copies both in physical and microfilm/fiche forms. In one case, I saw 9 copies of the same book on the founding families of Virginia. With that many copies, it is undeniable how popular this book was with our patrons. This reminds me of how public libraries order many copies of an anxiously awaited title in order to meet the public’s demand.

Another way to prove heavy usage of our library is in the condition of some of our reading room books. For example, The Women of the American Revolution by Elizabeth F. Ellet is a classic text for our patrons researching their American Revolution ancestors. Ellet’s 2 volume set recounted in detail the stories of over 120 women who assisted in the fight for America’s freedom from Britain. After consulting diaries, biographies, manuscript letters, and conducting oral interviews, Ellet created one of the very first historic records of Revolutionary women.


Our copy of this seminal work has been read, consulted, and loved over the years and is now showing signs of serious wear. This book is in need of repair as the top and the bottom parts of its spine are fraying from years of patrons pulling the book off the shelf:


Given the importance and historic nature of this first edition, we are very interested in securing conservation treatment for it through the California State Library Foundation.

Another book, The Histories and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor Connecticut, has sustained much more damage.  First, the part that covers the spine is detached completely from the book’s covers (also known as boards):


This means that the book will soon fall apart once the glue and stitching holding it together start to weaken from repeated use with no spine protection:


Unfortunately, the spine is not the only part of this book that has seen damage from too much use. The title page for the book sustained several tears and shows signs of past “repairs” that were made with scotch tape:


The liberal use of tape is unfortunate. Removing tape can easily take off a layer of paper, and adhesives from old tape can sink into paper, staining it an unsightly yellow or brown. In order to remove the harmful tape, a conservator would have to employ very time consuming—and possibly expensive–treatment strategies such as a stream of hot air to soften the adhesive or using solvents to dissolve it.

The most extreme example we found in the reading room was this copy of Vital record of Rehoboth, 1642-1896:


The text block of this book is in pieces, the spine and covers are completely detached, and many pages are torn and ripped. Sadly, this book is in such disrepair that it would be too costly to send it to conservation. Luckily, we have another copy so patrons can still come to the library and get the information they need.

As a librarian, it warms my heart that the Sutro Library’s genealogy collection has been so well used—and loved—over the years. Evidence of wear is a strong testament to the role we have played in generations of genealogists’ work and we look forward to continuing to be a resource for the community. We want to thank all the donors who give funds to the CA State Library Foundation each year for the maintenance of our collection, especially Richard Larson.

If you wish to donate to the California State Library Foundation, please contact the CA State Library Foundation directly.

Happy Holidays!

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


Treasure Boxes

As I have gotten to know more about the Sutro Library’s collection during my time volunteering here, I am repeatedly amazed at the breadth and diversity of the holdings.  Some great examples of surprising things that can be found at the library came to my attention recently, when I was given the enviable task of working with Sutro’s Orientalia collection.  The library staff wants to make the collection available to researchers, but before that can happen, the materials need to safely housed, carefully identified, and painstakingly cataloged. Hence my job, to measure and give a preliminary assessment of the condition of the books, prints, and other items.  Armed with dimensions and descriptions, library staff will be able to determine what supplies they need in order to preserve and protect the materials.  Meanwhile, I had the great fun of opening boxes of materials and finding all kinds of treasures inside.

For instance, I came across a slim book from 1830, which was a translation into Chinese of a new method of vaccinating, complete with diagrams and illustrations of the technique:



I also found a roughly printed English-Cantonese dictionary written for traders and merchants, which contained the phrases for virtuous and foolish wives, disobedient and filial sons, and faithful friends:


In another box I discovered folded sheets of tissue-thin paper, with tracings of papyrus scrolls from the British Museum Collection:


You can imagine how delighted I was to page through a 17th or 18th century sketchbook with original brush paintings.  The paintings have such delicacy of color and line, and, at the same time, winningly capture the gestures and postures of the people depicted: the crouching servant mixing ink at the feet of his master; the small man trudging along with his comically large sack; the happy boy and his even happier dog; and a rather weary looking monster:



The Sutro Library collection reaches out in so many directions, encompassing medical texts, documents for businesses, archaeological records, original art works and so much more.  Managing such a diversity of materials is a formidable task, especially as many of the items in the collection require special care.  But the Sutro librarians are committed to maintaining the collection and making it available to as many people as possible.  Thanks to their efforts, all of the treasures in the Orientalia collection will one day be available for study, research, and appreciation.

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

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.