Between the Pages

I wonder if you’re like me and grab any scrap of paper that happens to be handy to use as a bookmark.  I’ve used grocery lists, notes from my husband, those annoying subscription cards that fall out of magazines, ticket stubs, receipts, postcards, newspaper articles I’ve clipped to read later, post-it notes with reminders to call the dentist… the list goes on and on.  When I’ve finished a book, before putting it on my shelf, passing it on to a friend, or trading it in at a second-hand bookstore, I flip through the book to remove the bits of paper that have been marking my place.  At least, I think I do.  I’m sure I’ve left plenty of things behind for the next reader to find.

As I look through books in the Sutro Library’s collection I sometimes come across things that other people have left tucked between the pages.  Such discoveries don’t happen often.  The books in the Sutro Library vault have probably passed through many hands before arriving there, and things left between the pages have most likely long since fallen out or been removed.  But occasionally something remains.  When I look through the books I’m generally checking their condition – making sure there’s no mold, investigating the extent of worm damage, confirming that the binding is still secure and no pages are coming loose.  It is always a wonderful surprise to find some small treasure instead of evidence of decay or damage.

For instance, in a book of poetry by an author identified only as Mrs. Hemans, published in 1839, I found a small strip of mesh embroidered with the word “modesty.”


Perhaps it is only a coincidence that the piece of needlework marks a page with a poem entitled “Woman and Fame,” but the sentiment of the poem and the simple exhortation of the stitched word make a perfect pair.  The narrator of the poem rejects the temptations of fame in favor of simpler rewards, which she deems more appropriate for women.

Though hast a charmed cup, O Fame,

A draught that mantles high,

And seems to lift this earthly frame

Above mortality.

Away! To me—a woman—bring

Sweet water from affection’s spring.

Someone has written a brief note on one of the first pages of the book:  “Presented to Miss M Smith by A Friend.”  I wonder about that “Friend.”  Why did he or she give the book anonymously?  Were they genuinely trying to save Miss Smith from a ruinous course of action?  Or was the book given by an interfering busybody who was shocked by the advanced or ambitious Miss Smith?  Did Miss Smith quail and repent when she saw the needlework and read the poem?  Did she carefully preserve the stitchery as a reminder in case she should stray from an “appropriate” path again?  Or did she snap the book shut with an immodest laugh and toss it aside, never giving the poem or the reminder to be modest another thought?

The library has a very well-used copy of The Works of Benjamin Franklin, published in Philadelphia in 1818.  Marguerite Milton Wells has pasted her book plate on the inside of the front cover and someone named H. Scott has written his or her name boldly in ink on the title page.  Perhaps it was Marguerite Wells or H. Scott who carefully annotated the lengthy book in pencil and copied out an inspiring verse on one of the back pages.  Somehow, however, I imagine it was not either of them, but rather a little sister who put the paper doll between pages 190 and 191.  And perhaps it was the same little sister who added a scribble to Franklin’s 1784 letter reproduced on page 190.  I hope the little girl didn’t fret over the loss of her doll too much. And I hope her older sibling wasn’t too angry about the scribble!


picture3Colyn Wohlmut, a librarian that worked at Sutro Library until August 2018, once asked for my help holding a book open as she carefully used tweezers to remove leaves, long since dried out and now crumbling into tiny shards, which someone had pressed between the pages of a book.  I was interested to see her place the pieces of the leaves into an envelope.  Colyn told me that while organic matter left in a book is an invitation to hungry insects, the leaves are part of the book’s history and will be safely preserved.

Indeed, even things that might seem innocuous can cause damage when left in a book.  For instance, you can see where something left in this book has permanently stained the pages.


Even something as seemingly harmless as a plain slip of paper can cause damage.  If the paper isn’t of archival quality, it contains acids or other chemicals which can create discoloration.


So what should you do if you find anything between the pages of a book in the Sutro collection?  Leave the item in place and let a librarian know what you’ve found and where.  A note or marker might be an important part of the book’s history, or it might be damaging the book, or both!  But whatever the object is, think of it as a reminder of readers who’ve come before you and spend a moment imagining how it might have made its way into the book.


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


If the Shoe Fits……

Cinderella reportedly said, “One shoe can change your life.” While Cinderella’s one shoe brought her to Prince Charming, our books’ shoes will bring them a lifetime of structure, security, and protection. Why would books need shoes you ask? Good question.

The Sutro Library has a stunning collection of libros de conventos (Convent Books, aka convento books), mostly bound in limp vellum, which means that the book does not have a stiff cover (or boards as they are technically called) and instead is very flexible (very similar in behavior to modern day paperbacks). These convento books were added to the collection when Adolph Sutro, traveled to Mexico in 1889 and purchased at auction the contents of the Abadiano Bookstore. Since the books are so flexible and in various sizes, shelving them can be tricky. At one point in the not-so-distant past, the State Library was committed to putting all these valuable books in phase boxes (a fancy word for a custom box) but the project stalled at some point, and now we have some books boxed, and some that are not. Fast forward to today and the unboxed books are starting to swell and distort.


Ideally, we would resurrect this past effort and make phase boxes for the rest of the convento books since boxes protect books from light, dust, and small leaks. Yet boxes do not let you see the limp vellum spine with the book’s handwritten title, and they also cost more money and labor to make. Since the past phase boxes were made in Sacramento, we wanted a more local solution.

Enter professional conservator Gillian Boal. Gillian learned of our desire to have a structured housing solution for our convento books but with the ability to see the book’s spines. She casually mentioned book shoes, and we quickly agreed it was the desired solution. The book shoe is a kind of box that is made out of conservation grade cardboard that the book slips into. Each custom box would fit snugly around all parts of the book except on the top and the spine. And, just like your shoes, you don’t want to make the shoe too tight or too lose. The shoe provides much needed structure for the books as well as:

  • Protects the sides of decorated or fragile bindings, such as those covered in textiles, from their neighbors;
  • Reduces wear to the book due to being pulled in and out of shelves;
  • Allows books to be moved without the binding being touched.

Gillian printed out information on how to make the shoes from the Northeast Document Conservation Center. The State Library purchased the conservation cardboard and Gillian made a prototype for our SFSU museum studies students to replicate.

Alan Scardera was the first SFSU Museum Studies graduate student to take up the project. Alan studied the documentation and prototype Gillian left behind and soon was making his own book shoes. I expressed a desire to have some sort of string or tie to keep the shoe as snug as possible and Alan figured out how to weave unbleached linen tying tape through the structure.

alan making boxes


img_6790Alan soon trained SFSU History graduate student, Allison Bermann, on how to make the shoes and the physical conditions of our convento books are rapidly improving. With the help of the California State Library Foundation, we were able to purchase enough glue and tying tape to keep Alan and Allison in steady production these last three months, and for many months to come.

img_7032The eventual goal is to have all the limp vellum bound books from Mexico in a shoe. While stage one of the project is focused on quarto-sized books, we will eventually move into folio and tiny-sized books as well. One challenge we noticed, however, is that some of the books are too fragile or have decorations that do not allow for easy slipping in and out of the shoe without causing further damage to the book’s bindings. For those shoeless books, another solution will have to be found.

The book shoe is a huge step forward for this part of our collection and would not be possible without the generosity of the California State Library Foundation and most especially, the dedication and talent of the SFSU graduate students working on the project. Their devotion to making these books secure is deeply appreciated because everybody loves a good pair of shoes—even books!

img_7033.jpgFor More Information:

The book shoe was developed by Nicholas Pickwoad while consultant at the National Trust in England. The commercial design was developed by Christopher Clarkson, then at West Dean College, Chichester, England, and Anthony Cains, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. The instructions to make your own book shoes can be found here:

If you are interested in damage to rare books and different supportive housing for damaged books, more information can be found here:

A formal definition of limp bindings can be found here:

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


Cooking with Aunt Babette

Receipts of Jewish Identity

Hanukkah came early this year during the first week of December, and I searched in our catalog looking for Jewish cookbooks and found Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. I was surprised to find no listings of: latkes (potato pancakes were listed, however); sufganiyot (while doughnuts were listed, jelly-filled was not); and kugel (there were a couple of recipes, but none similar to the one I grew up eating). The shock at my lack of findings disappeared as I realized most of the recipes were of German dishes. As a descendant of Eastern European Jews, most of Aunt Babette’s recipes hold no meaning and are unrecognizable to me. In fact, if I hadn’t known the cookbook was donated by a Jewish family;  recognized the significance of the publisher’s symbol (a Star of David) on the title page; or learned about the publisher’s familial connection to the leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (this last one took a bit of research), then I would not have guessed this volume was a Jewish cookbook.



There’s hardly any dish listed in the index that is explicitly Jewish. Only one word is written in Hebrew, charoset (apple and nut mixture eaten during Passover) and this is ironically under the section titled: Easter Dishes. In addition to the avoidance of Jewish words or references to Jewish holidays, the recipes appear to be a reinterpretation of what it means to keep kosher and includes recipes which mix meat with milk and even include pork! One could easily misinterpret Aunt Babette’s as a German American cookbook for middle-class women and not Jewish.



What I find interesting about Aunt Babette’s is that it is so much more than a cookbook: it’s a guidebook providing tips and hints for a woman to effectively manage the household. According to Aunt Babette (pseudonym of Bertha F. Kramer): just like it’s the man’s duty to be the head of his business, it is the woman’s duty to be the head of the household. Among the recipes, there are instructions and other tips for becoming an effective housekeeper, from how to put on a Pink Tea party (hint: everything is pink) to curing a sore throat with strips of bacon. She even offers advice on the treatment of servants and how their treatment will lead to better service:

“How pleasant is a home where kindness reigns.”


While Aunt Babette’s Cook Book cannot claim the title as the first Jewish cookbook (that belongs to Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book published in 1871), Aunt Babette’s is one of the most popular of its time having various printings for over 25 years. By the time of its first printing in 1889, the first wave of German Jews who immigrated to America half a century earlier would have already been established in American society, and most of them identified with the Reform Movement having renounced more traditional customs like keeping kosher. With the publisher’s familial ties to the movement and recipes including shellfish and other non-kosher foods, this cookbook was clearly written for German Reform Jews.

Also happening in the late 1880s, the next wave of Jewish immigration had already begun, this time Eastern European Jews. Is it possible that this cookbook could have been used (or at least was the intent of the publishers as well as the German Jewish community overall) as a guidebook for incoming Jewish migrants? Perhaps it was thought that its pages would inspire and encourage them to not only join Reform Judaism (Eastern European Jews immigrating to America would have been Conservative or Orthodox at this time), but also to assimilate to hegemonic customs? Or could this have also been a guidebook for non-Jewish women of the middle class? By providing recipes that mixed meat with milk alongside a section detailing how to set the Seder table for Passover (listed under Easter Dishes), perhaps the other intent of this cookbook was to assuage anti-Semitism, e.g. fear of the other?

Fear of the other is a concept to remember in the context of this book’s publishing. The Jewish Christmas tradition of eating Chinese food on December 24th and 25th is representative of a shared immigration history that both the Jewish and Chinese communities share. Chinese restaurants are one of the few places open during the holiday and, geographically, when these two groups immigrated to New York they lived closer together. Since both groups were outside of the Christian tradition, these groups were linked together often due to their “otherness.”  Additionally, traditional Chinese food did not include dairy and gave the allusion of keeping kosher. Jennifer 8. Lee, producer of The Search for General Tso, a documentary on Chinese cuisine from Shanghai to America, stated in an interview with The Atlantic that the connection Jews felt toward Chinese food “reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders”.

Aunt Babette’s cookbook is representative of an early response to this immigration history. It casts out the “otherness” rather than embraces it, thereby making it hard for outsiders, both non-Jews and Jews alike (especially Eastern European), to recognize this as a Jewish cookbook. While Aunt Babette may not have provided me with a recipe for Hanukkah, she did shed light on the Jewish immigrant experience.

Additional Resources:

Sutro Library carries the 6th edition of Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. To view this in person, please give us 2 business days advance notice of your visit. Other editions are also freely and remotely available online through

From our families to yours: Happy Holidays!


*Written by the Sutro Library Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.

Jethro Tull, 1674-1741


It’s funny the way popular culture can inform our historical interests and discoveries.  While searching for something to post for the Instagram challenge #ArchivesHarvest, I was immediately attracted by the name Jethro Tull in the 600s’ Dewey section of our vault.  And it is here that I discovered that more than a seventies progressive rock band,  Jethro Tull was in fact a central figure who helped set the foundation of the eighteenth century revolution in agriculture.



This revolution, which had its origins in Britain, took over one hundred years to come to fruition. Tull first published his seminal work, The Horse-Hoeing Husbandry: or, an, essay on the principles of tillage and vegetation. Wherein is shewn a method of introducing a sort of vineyard-culture into the corn-fields, in order to increase their product, and diminish the common expense; by the use of instruments described in cuts, in 1733, and although his seed drill was largely denounced in England, it was however immediately adopted by colonists in New England. In terms of Tull’s theories and Britain’s failure to adopt them, it was especially disagreeable that Tull rejected the need to use manure to enrich soil.


There are several reasons why the agricultural revolution came about, policies like the Enclosure movement as well as discoveries in crop rotation, but it was invention of machines like the seed drill that were the major catalyst. Not until the 1800s did British farmers finally adopt Tull’s theories, leaving behind the ancient method of hand broadcasting which consisted of farmers randomly throwing seeds in a field, hoping for them to take root.  This method and its glaring inefficiencies was what had initially motivated Tull to invent his rotary system, and in addition to the seed drill, he also developed the horse drawn hoe and an improved plough.


This book “approved and recommended” by the Dublin Society, known now as the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), was part of a concerted effort to build up Ireland’s economy. The Society, which was founded in 1731, just two years prior to the publication of this book, was created to improve Ireland’s “husbandry, manufacture and the useful arts.” Resources like this one represent one of the important ways in which the Society helped disseminate information regarding new breakthroughs in science and technology. The audience would obviously be landed, literate, men with the means to buy an expensive book like this.



This is just one of many primary resources on farming and agriculture housed at the Sutro Library. If you are interested in looking at any of our rare materials, please give us two business days.

In Search of Gung-Gung

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Mike Wong, a student at SF State University. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

Having heard the same story every year of my grandpa going into “the wrong branch of the armed forces,” I decided to make it my mission to research more about my grandpa, more than any other person in my family has before. I decided to undertake this research this semester and the process on finding more information about my grandpa rapidly advanced from a casual story into a much more intriguing story I would have ever imagined.

Mike GrandpaGung-Gung in his youth, in his Navy Uniform

Given the resources I had, one major website that blew open the doors for me was The Sutro Library gave me free access to, and after a quick dive into my family’s heritage, I uncovered much more information, more information than I needed quite frankly. Initially I thought I was going to cover the basics of my grandpa and his time in the military, but with the grind of research, I found much more about my family than just my grandpa.

Before doing hours of research in the Sutro, I conducted an oral interview with my grandma and my dear great-Aunt. During the interview, I called them the way I always called them growing up, for my grandma I call her “Paw-Paw” because in the Chinese culture that is what you call a grandma on the mother side, and Aunty Virginia, is a standard name for Aunts, and I would ask them questions about Gung-Gung. The term “Gung-Gung” means grandpa on the mother side in the Chinese culture.

When talking to Paw-Paw, I had focused my questions more towards after the war, and more of the solid facts. They were primarily Why type of questions, I had asked those because my grandmother would give more detailed answers as if it was from a textbook. When it came to Aunty Virginia, I had to change my questions up a little bit because she knew Gung-Gung longer, and more on a family basis rather than a soldier basis from my grandmother. While interviewing my Aunt I had asked her a lot more What and How style questions, which would enable answers to a more personal basis. In the end of both interviews, in their closing statements they had admitted that they are thankful for me doing this interview. Both of them had a lot of sympathy for Gung-Gung and his time on Earth, and yet they were proud. They were both proud because they got to reminisce of a good man, an even better brother, a soldier who sacrificed blood sweat and tears for this nation, and most importantly, a loving hero to three children and six grandchildren.

Mike with Aunt and grandmaFrom Left to Right, Anna (Paw-Paw, grandma, wife of Gung-Gung), me, Aunty Virginia (sister of Gung-Gung)

After the oral interview with both my grandma and my Aunt, my knowledge of Gung-Gung was considered minimal for the amount of information I received. For example I found out that my grandpa went through an infamous typhoon in the pacific, and I also found out how far my grandpa went in his personal education. Granted I did learn a lot about his time in the armed forces, I feel like I learned more about him outside of the military. I found out where he lived before he met my grandma, I found out the location of his little mom and pop liquor store was, and I even found out who he was related to. There is an all-important family member I have always heard of, but I always end up overlooking. Through research and asking around internally I found out that my grandpa’s grandfather’s sister had a son, and that son was the local Oakland judge Delbert Earl Wong, the first Chinese American Judge in the United States of America.

Young Delbert.png

Delbert E. Wong (young)

Because my research lead me more towards Delbert, I decided to see where this would take me. I had found out that Delbert was the son of Alice Mar Wong and Earl Wong. Alice Wong was the sister of Cuyler Sr (great-Grandpa). Cuyler Sr. had three children, the oldest was Gung-Gung, who was named Cuyler Jr, the middle son named Gavin (he passed away from leukemia in the year 1973) and the youngest was a daughter he named Virginia. To my understanding on Delbert’s side of the family, Earl is the one who married into the family. Earl and Alice got married in Fresno County on May 20, 1919, by a man named John Freeman Mills. It is logged in the Fresno County certificates in volume 38, on page 345. According to the official California passenger and crew list for 1882-1959,  Earl was coming back from Hong Kong via SS President Coolidge on May 23, 1935 but nobody accompanied him. He was 37 years old and married to Alice and had two kids, Delbert and Ervin.  Less than a month later, the same source listed Alice coming back to California from Hong Kong as well, on June 11, 1935, and with Delbert accompanying her.  Alice’s age was 34 making Delbert 15 years old.

The question that arises is Where was Erwin in all of this? and why didn’t they travel as a single unit? Well to conclude the latter question, my theory behind that is Alice had to come back separately from Earl because of a federal act that was in play at the time. This act called the Expatriation Act of 1907, was a law that forced American women to lose their nationality and citizenship if they married an alien. With the Expatriation Act of 1907 in play, I am theorizing it is the reason why Alice had to come back separate (but not divorced) from Earl and with Delbert. This would explain also why I found accounts of Alice’s naturalization papers on Naturalization papers were forms an individual has to fill out to become a citizen in the United States back then. The question remains of where Erwin was during this time. One thing that doesn’t connect is that Erwin, born a US citizen, should’ve been 10 years old when Alice and the family moved back to California.

With all this research on my family heritage, including Gung-Gung’s military time and cousin Delbert, questions still arise. Some questions that come to mind are, how close was Gung-Gung to Delbert?, What were the military ID numbers, ranks, and where were they stationed? Did Delbert see any action in the war?, or Did Gung-Gung do anything in the war that made a huge impact, and Delbert as well? The list of questions can be endless, and I believe that I just scratched the tip of the iceberg, and that there is many more routes I can go down in doing my genealogy.

For future investigation (and if time permits) I know that the archives in Saint Louis would be a great place to start, I could conduct research in the pentagon and get through all the public information because I am family. I could also investigate locally in the N.A.R.A (National Archives and Records Administration) in San Bruno. To investigate further into Gung-Gung, I could dive deeper into a database called fold3 and look up WWII US Navy Muster Rolls. From there I could look into which ship my grandpa was on and what rank he was.

As for Delbert, I could always contact Stanford University and UCLA to look up his school records, as well as try to find out what laws and projects he had worked on while being part of the Judicial system and California State Legislature.Judge Delbert

In conclusion, although I wanted more information about Gung-Gung, my research time in the Sutro Library lead me down a different path, a path that I wasn’t expecting. I had a goal coming into this research project looking to find more about the military presence of Gung-Gung but it ended up being more directed towards my first cousin, twice removed cousin Delbert Earl Wong, the first Chinese-American judge in America.

Mike Wong FamilyGung-Gung (in the blue shirt with yellow flowers), surrounded with the upcoming two generations

Although I’m proud of my connection and family heritage associated with Delbert, I am still interested in finding out more about my grandpa.

Mike Wong grandparents.jpgGung-Gung with the one he loves the most, Anna or Paw-Paw

During the closing thoughts portion of the interview with Aunty Virginia, she had mentioned a wise line to live by, and I would like to share it. Aunty Virginia had said “Do the best you can, and keep your nose clean. Do what you’re expected to do, and don’t get into any trouble.”

Mike Wong grandpa and auntGung-Gung with his one and only sister Virginia

–Michael Wong, SFSU History undergraduate class of 2019, student in SFSU History #405, History of Maritime Class


List of Resources Consulted via

California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 for Alice Wong

California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 for Earl Wong

California, County Birth, Marriage, & Death Records, 1849-1980 for Early Quong Wong

Delbert Earl Wong in the U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947

1940 United States Federal Census for Earl Wong

Alice Mar Wong in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

Earl Q Wong in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

Erwin Wong in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

Ervin Wong in the U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947






Monsters of the Deep

October brings us to the season of Halloween and spooky monster tales. While it would be easy to do a blog post on something written by the master of scary, Edgar Allen Poe, I thought I would take a different approach and focus on the mythical sea monsters found on some of our 16th and 17th century maps.

Since ancient times, sailors have told stories of fierce and hideous animals found in the ocean’s depths.  As much of the ocean’s ecosystem was hidden and still a bit of a mystery, it is not surprising that sailor’s tales of sea monsters made an impression on the Medieval and Early Modern mind, with early cartographers incorporating these accounts into their maps.

What is interesting to me about the monsters found on our maps is how they are familiar to my eyes and yet gruesomely different. The drawings take animals that I have seen before—like a whale or dolphin– and then add some exaggerated characteristic that turns them into something terrifying.

For example, this seemingly fierce, but normal looking fish from the front, just happens to have a snake-like tail added on:fish1

From: Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-India’s (1655), call number F1409 G34 1655

Or this vicious but otherwise common-looking shark happens to have a multi-finned tail:


From: Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-India’s (1655), call number F1409 G34 1655

Another example can be found in Theodor de Bry’s Vivae Imagines et Ritvs Incolarvm (1590), where we find what appears to be a large whale with two spouts and a snake-like tail:


From: Theodor de Bry’s Vivae Imagines et Ritvs Incolarvm (1590), call number E141 .B798 1590

And another two spouted whale is spotted again in Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619):


From: Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619), call number 910.8 B91 vol. 2

I found a fish almost as big as Cuba in that same volume:


From: Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619), call number 910.8 B91 vol. 2

Lastly, this creature appears to have a spout but his head resembles that of a cow:


From: Hispaniae Novae Nova Descriptio, 1592, mapG33

If you are curious to learn more about monsters found in antiquarian maps, you can follow #MapMonsterMonday on twitter or check out these two books at your local library:

Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer, and Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map, by Joseph Nigg.

This post was inspired by SF State University’s Sarah Crabtree’s History 405 Maritime History class which explores the history of the ocean and our relationship with it.

Have a great October!

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


Cataloging & Conserving What They Carried: The Geneva Bible

Next month’s #SFArchivesCrawl‘s theme is Im(migration) and Indigenous Voices of California.  We at the Sutro Libray have decided to focus on the things that travelers brought with them when they traveled. We have many physical reminders of people’s past journeys: government documents, diaries, maps, guidebooks, letters, and books.  One item that traveled relates strongly to the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower‘s voyage and colonization of the area known today as New England.

The participants of the Mayflower journey are credited with taking a particular version of the Bible with them to the new world. It’s known as the Geneva Bible, in honor of the very active community of Protestants in the city where it was printed. It predates the more famous King James Version (which Sutro also has) and continued to be produced for some years before being practically supplanted.

The Sutro Library owns a 1582 imprint of the bible which was originally printed in 1560. This later printing demonstrates two significant differences from the earlier one. The first printing was printed in Roman type, while our version is printed in black-letter. However, the more commonly ascribed difference is the use of the word ‘breeches’ to describe the plant based clothing Adam and Eve used to cover themselves.  This printed edition among Geneva Bibles is known as the Breeches Bible.


There were multiple additional features which appeared in the printed text. Glosses, illustrations and more gave the reader a more direct understanding of the scriptures. In this period literacy and printing was empowering individuals to make decisions about their own faiths and directly challenged the authority of the priestly classes.

Our book includes 3 other works: Whole Booke of Psalms, printed in 1581; Concordances, printed in 1582; and the Book of Common Prayer, printed in 1582.

As you can imagine, cataloging a work of this historical importance and complexity is a significant challenge. Have a look at the deluge of notes in the record:


The devil is in the details, so without the careful work of an expert cataloging librarian, researchers would lack the information they need to identify materials of interest remotely. We are most grateful to our expert cataloger, Dan Taysom, for creating this amazing record for this special item.

Another perennial problem is condition. After 436 years of use, anyone would look a bit tired! We sent the volume in its tattered state to a professional conservator for treatment. Our priority as custodians is to ensure that materials continue to be accessible for hundreds of years into the future.

Here is the bible before conservation treatment:


As you can see, the way the binding is damaged makes it very difficult to use. Handling a book in this condition will often result in further damage. It’s the conservator’s job to stabilize the binding, effect any necessary or integral repairs, but not necessarily hide the repairs or erase some of the books history. Restoration is the process of making something old look like-new. Conservation is the process of stabilizing something so that it will be usable, but maintaining whatever features have been added or changes which have occurred over time.

Here is the bible after treatment:


If you’d like to see this bible, or any other items from Adolph Sutro’s rare book collection, please email or call 415-469-6100 to schedule an appointment. Make sure you mention the call number for this book: BS170 1582.

We wish to thank the California State Library Foundation for funding the conservation work on this bible and Sarah Elson of Sarah Elson Bookbinding, Menlo Park, for the pictures submitted for this article and for her outstanding conservation work.

[This article was written by Sutro Library Librarian, Colyn Wohlmut, who has since assumed a new position at another institution. We wish her every success!]

Yes, Bookworms Are a Real Thing

It didn’t occur to me that some people, perhaps even most people, who hear the term “bookworm” think it is only a metaphor for someone who reads voraciously.  When I recently showed my teenage daughter a couple of pictures of bookworm tracks in books from the Sutro Library vault, she exclaimed, “Wait, bookworms are a real thing?” I realized then that the cute animations popularizing bookworm-themed games and the affectionate nickname we might give to someone who is, yet again, lost in a novel, have superseded the reality of these insidious little borers.  So I told my daughter that unfortunately, as anyone who works with old books knows, the answer is, “Yes, bookworms are a real thing.”

The pictures I showed my daughter were of bookworm tracks that resembled a rabbit and an ostrich.



image 4

However, there is actually nothing amusing about the damage that bookworms cause.  They tunnel through books, at times all the way from front cover to back, leaving holes on every page.  Or they carve meandering tracks across pages, obscuring text, weakening bindings, and leaving the paper vulnerable to tearing.  A few times I’ve come across a small, grey desiccated lump at the end of one of these tracks:

a very old, and very dead, bookworm.


A quick look at Wikipedia tells me that “bookworm” is a generic term for any insect that bores through books.  The actual culprits are not really worms at all but most likely beetles or beetle larvae, attracted by leather bindings or the wooden shelves the books are kept on.  There are also such creatures as book lice, tiny little devils who dine on mold and other organic matter found in the books – in other words, the kind of organic matter that thrives whenever books are kept in damp, dark places and are left undisturbed for long periods of time.


Happily, modern binding techniques have made new bookworm damage rare, hence my daughter’s surprise to discover that bookworms are, or were, an actual scourge.  But books that have already suffered damage require special care.  At the Sutro Library, librarians are able to keep old and rare books and materials in a climate-controlled vault where temperature and humidity are regulated to prevent mold or insects from flourishing. In addition, books that have weakened bindings or vulnerable pages are encased in so-called phase boxes, which give them extra protection.  And the library has strict rules against bringing in any food or drinks, which might attract insects and cause future damage.

So next time you hear the word “bookworm,” spare a thought for the injured books in Sutro’s collection, but be comforted knowing that the books are now being expertly stored and protected.


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

Why we make war: Part II

Why do we make peace?



John Locke proposed that humans, possessing free will and reason, do not naturally need to harm one another or themselves. Sutro’s copy of Two Treatises of Government was printed 1772, a time in which Locke’s doctrines were gaining popularity, particularly in the American Colonies. The Second Treatise declared that men are created equal, possess free will, reason and a natural liberty subordinate only to God in the state of nature, thus contravening Hobbes’s bleak view of human nature. Further, Locke determined “the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no-one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Second Treatise, chapter 2).

Locke conjures much of the American philosophy of liberty in Second Treatise on Government including the protection of citizens’ rights from government overreach. Thomas Jefferson wrote that Locke’s arguments were of the utmost influence.[1] Some individuals who viewed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence actually considered the Declaration copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government.[2]

war 12_0001

Two Treatises of Government: Sutro Library; Vault; 302L


Immanuel Kant’s 1795 book, To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, championed republican constitutions, economic trade, and a federation of democratic institutions that together would deliver an everlasting peace.  Because nations exist in anarchy without a central authority (the natural condition of nations), peace must be imposed by a federation of democratic nations, which Kant referred to as a “League of Nations”.  Perpetual Peace so strongly influenced President Woodrow Wilson during the World War I that Wilson proposed establishing a League of Nations as part of his 1918 plan for an equitable peace in Europe following the war.[3]  Wilson’s plan was popular among exhausted nations and populations, but the American ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and its First Covenant establishing the League proved too difficult politically to the isolationist United States.

The United States never joined the League and thus, the League never achieved its full capability. John Maynard Keynes’ book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) stated Wilson was revered by Europeans as a guardian of the hopes of mankind.

“The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States”

Peoples, as states, like individuals, may be judged to injure one another merely by their coexistence in the state of nature (i.e., while independent of external laws). Each of them, may and should for the sake of its own security demand that the others enter with it into a constitution similar to the civil constitution, for under such a constitution each can be secure in his right. This would be a league of nations, but it would not have to be a state consisting of nations.

-Kant, Perpetual Peace, Second Article

To Perpetual Peace  Sutro Library; Vault; JX1946.K36 S6


David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature can be found in first edition in the Sutro Library. Hume views humans as possessing “natural” virtues which are inherently social. We have an original instinct orienting us towards pleasure and away from pain,  what Hume referred to as “good or evil” passions and that  there are various human motives, including a “regard to justice, and abhorrence or villainy and knavery,” self-love, and “regard to the publick[sic] interest.” According to Hume, only civilized humans possess these motives while humans in their “rude and more natural condition” do not.[4]

Hume argues that government serves the public interest by “preserv[ing] order and concord in society.”  Promise-keeping is a human invention needed for social cooperation, and government is a human invention for enforcing such practices and thereby preserving social order. Promise breaking and anti-government actions run against the common interest. The similarities between individuals and entire nations yield the same laws of nature.[5]

Treatise on Human Nature  Sutro Library; Vault; 192H

Whether war and peace are the result of a primal drive within, or something we create as a result of civilization and progress, hopefully these extraordinary volumes from the Sutro collection highlight the philosophical arguments concerning these timeless questions.


Work Cited


Bassani, Luigi Marco. Life, Liberty, and…: Jefferson on Property Rights. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 18. Number 1. Winter 2004, pp. 31-87. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Gill, Michael. Hume’s Progressive View of Human Nature. Hume Studies, Volume XXVI, Number 1. April 2000. Accessed May 31, 2018.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. Leviathan : sive, De materia, forma, & potestate civitatis ecclesiasticae et civilis;  authore Thomas Hobbes, Malmesburiensi. Revised Latin edition, London, dated 1668. Sutro Vault ; 192 H68l. 20.5cm.


Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. London, Printed for John Noon, 1739-40, first edition. Sutro Vault 192H. 21cm.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. The Thomas Jefferson
Memorial Association, Washington, D. C., 1904, Vol. XV, p. 462, in a letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Kant, Immanuel. To Perpetual Peace. Por la paz perpetua; traducción de Rafael Montestruc. Sopena House, appeared March 1905.    Sutro Vault  JX1946.K36 S6. 17cm.


Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace.  New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Sutro Vault 341.2 K.  21cm.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. L. K. Whiston, 1772. Sutro Vault 302L.  22cm.


Machiavelli, Niccolò. Art of War in Seven Books with notes by a gentleman of the state of New York.  Albany, Printed by H. C. Southwick, 1815. Sutro Vault U101 .M17. unk cm.


Paret, Peter, Editor. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age.  Princeton University Press, 1986, pg. 27.


Thucydides. Eight bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre; Written by Thucydides, the sonne of Olorus; interpreted with faith and diligence immediately out of the Greeke by Thomas Hobbes. 1628. Sutro’s imprint by Richard Mynn, 1634. Sutro Vault 888.2  T. 35cm.

[1] Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson
Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, p. 462, in a letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823.  Accessed May 29, 2018.

[2] Bassani, Luigi Marco. Life, Liberty, and…: Jefferson on Property Rights. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 18. No. 1 (Winter 2004), pp. 31-87. Accessed May 29, 2018. Cites Jefferson letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823.

[3] US State Department. milestones/1914-1920/league. Accessed May 29, 2018.



Why we war?

Why we make war & make peace – Sutro Library exhibit War in the Archives through August 20, 2018, in commemoration of the 1918 Armistice.

Thucydides Hobbes

First of Two Parts:

Is war inevitable? Can nations and people get along? Do we make war when diplomacy fails, or is conflict an intrinsic part of human nature? Since the beginning of written history, various schools of thought have debated the causes.  In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918, the Sutro has arranged a superb exhibit on war and peace at the library. We will post another entry in August highlighting themes from the exhibit.

For our first installment, our volunteer Craig Kelliher, takes a look at the historically relevant discourse surrounding the questions, “Why we make war” and “Why we make peace.”

Some philosophers and numerous political realists believe humans cannot help themselves from taking up arms,  we are hard-wired to do so. Others argue such pessimistic perspectives overlook the cooperative elements of human nature. In International Relations theory, Classical Realism is built on the pyramid of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, Renaissance Italian Niccolò Machiavelli and seventeenth century English theorist Thomas Hobbes.  Realists maintain a fatalistic view of human nature, believe relations between nations are competitive and conflictual, value national security and survival as primary goals of the state, and are skeptical about progress in international cooperation beyond a state’s self-interest.

On the other side of the disputation are views that people are social and tend to cooperate with one another. John Locke, Immanuel Kant and David Hume believed in free will, reason, and naturally sociability. These beliefs are constitutional incentives towards peace and cooperation among individuals, societies and nations.

On “Why we make war”

Thucydides ranks among the first historians. In the years up to 400BC, Thucydides recorded The History of The Peloponnesian War, spending 27 years systematically registering first-hand accounts of dialogue and conflict between Athens and Sparta. In witness of what he described as the natural reality of unequal power among nations, Thucydides realized that nations must recognize their relative position and act accordingly. Decisions and actions carry consequences, therefore leaders must behave with “deference to one’s superiors,” and with moderation towards inferior powers, resulting in logic based self-preservation. This dynamic makes for an international system governed only by power and nation states’ relative positions within it. Thereby, Thucydides provides the basis for describing the international system as “anarchy” — lacking an overarching world government. Thucydides makes no accommodation for a celestial deity governing human behavior or morality. He includes sections on military technology, in particular, engaging sieges and naval warfare.

bridge 4_0001

Thomas Hobbes translated Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War from the original Greek in 1628 (Sutro’s imprint is dated 1634). This translation informed many of Hobbes’s own philosophies. While Thucydides defended the power of democracy, Hobbes highlighted the weakness of democracy as evidenced by the fall of the democratic Greek empire, in his subsequent writings.

Hobbes’ The Leviathan (Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill), is a pillar of philosophical works describing the human “state of nature” as perpetually at war, in a world in which anarchy reigns, and with every human endangered by the actions of others. A person and a commonwealth’s primary motivations are self-interest and survival. Hobbes describes the natural pre-civilized human condition as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’ The way to avoid this natural condition is through a strong and united government. Unfortunately, each nation-state exists in competition with others creating a similarly uncivilized ‘state of nature’ among nations, referred to as the “Security Dilemma” among modern theorists.  The Leviathan was banned for a variety of reasons; foremost was Hobbes’s suggestion, perhaps inspired by Thucydides that sovereigns rule by consent of the governed, not by divine right, which angered monarchs, royalists and the church. In this revised Latin version printed 1668, Hobbes writes “auctoritas non veritas facit legem”, meaning “authority, not truth, makes law.”

The Leviathan: Sutro Library; Vault; 192 H68l

hexham_0001 copy

Niccolò Macchiavelli’s Art of War was his only political treatise published during his lifetime. The Prince, first published in 1532, is more broadly read, offering a head of state lessons in attaining success through power and scheming. Art of War outlines military strategies and the rules of warfare to military commanders. It is considered his masterwork. Taken together, Machiavelli posits the why and the how of nations engaging as enemies.  The Prince‘s infamy lies in the lesson that the ends justify the means; Art of War proffers the argument that war is the inevitable result when diplomacy fails.  You will find a copy of Art of War in Thomas Jefferson’s Library at the Library of Congress.

Art of War in Seven Books with notes by a gentleman of the state of New York, 1815.  Sutro Library; Vault; U101 .M17

Work Cited

Bassani, Luigi Marco. Life, Liberty, and…: Jefferson on Property Rights. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 18. Number 1. Winter 2004, pp. 31-87. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Gill, Michael. Hume’s Progressive View of Human Nature. Hume Studies, Volume XXVI, Number 1. April 2000. Accessed May 31, 2018.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. Leviathan : sive, De materia, forma, & potestate civitatis ecclesiasticae et civilis;  authore Thomas Hobbes, Malmesburiensi. Revised Latin edition, London, dated 1668. Sutro Vault ; 192 H68l. 20.5cm.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. London, Printed for John Noon, 1739-40, first edition. Sutro Vault 192H. 21cm.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. The Thomas Jefferson
Memorial Association, Washington, D. C., 1904, Vol. XV, p. 462, in a letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Kant, Immanuel. To Perpetual Peace. Por la paz perpetua; traducción de Rafael Montestruc. Sopena House, appeared March 1905.      Sutro Vault  JX1946.K36 S6. 17cm.

Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace.  New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Sutro Vault 341.2 K.  21cm.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. L. K. Whiston, 1772. Sutro Vault 302L.  22cm.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. Art of War in Seven Books with notes by a gentleman of the state of New York.  Albany, Printed by H. C. Southwick, 1815. Sutro Vault U101 .M17. unk cm.

Paret, Peter, Editor. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age.  Princeton University Press, 1986, pg. 27.

Thucydides. Eight bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre; Written by Thucydides, the sonne of Olorus; interpreted with faith and diligence immediately out of the Greeke by Thomas Hobbes. 1628. Sutro’s imprint by Richard Mynn, 1634. Sutro Vault 888.2  T. 35cm.