Extras Between The Sheets

The work of archival and rare book processors is truly fascinating and never-ending. At RBML, we take great pleasure in exploring beyond the obvious and discovering curious and surprising artifacts left behind between pages and amidst letters for years, decades, and even centuries. 

These treasures come in varying formats, subjects, and meanings, some of them are jewels, while others are everyday curiosities lost in the shuffle of collecting or left behind as forgotten bookmarks. As someone who has used odd items like lottery tickets as placeholders, I can attest that these items often have a connection to the carrier, but sometimes they don’t. In most cases, we can only wonder about the when and how they got there. 

The bits of information left behind long ago tell stories of people, places, and things, and they inspire new questions and areas of research. They are a source of food for thought, imagination, and creativity. We at RBML are happy they have been unearthed and with great pleasure shine a spotlight on them in this blog and exhibit.m in this exhibit.

  • Below are the findings currently on display:

Forgotten Herbarium

Leaves and flowers found in books and letters are not uncommon. In a practice still done today, flora are pressed between pages of books, allowing for the perfect environment to dry and preserve the plants. However, this practice does not serve the preservation of our rare books. The flora is thus carefully removed and stored separately. The leaves seen here are a fern and a maple geranium.








Honi soit qui mal y pense : Genuine Court Plaister, ca. 1850

Made originally for aristocrats, these decorative patches were cut into patterns and used for cosmetic and medical purposes – as beauty spots and as cover up for scars or blemishes. Initially an exclusive and expensive practice, it was soon democratized with the use of cheaper materials and the patches were sold in apothecaries everywhere. Oddly enough this particular packet was found in a mathematical book. Davies, Charles. Intellectual arithmetic, or An analysis of the science of numbers: with special reference to mental trining and development. New York : Published by A.S. Barnes & Co, 1857

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

This work is part of a collection of books donated by a descendant of Alexander Hamilton, which may have belonged to him. At some time, probably not long after publication, the volume was turned into a book safe which may have held jewelry or secret documents, the pages hollowed out and glued together. The book was owned and lavishly bound by a member of the French royal family, Louis, Dauphin of France (1729-1765). It was possibly still in the family’s possession at the time of the Revolution, when the secret compartment may have been used. This hiding place was discovered during book processing and was a complete surprise. Pufendorf, Samuel, Freiherr von Le droit de la nature et des gens : ou système général des principes les plus importans: de la morale, de la jurisprudence et de la politique. 6. éd.Basle : E. Thourneisen, c 1750









A Memento of a Forgotten Artist

This inscribed reproduction of a self-portrait by the English portrait painter Edmund Hodgson Smart (1873-1942) was found in a volume that initially belonged to the immensely wealthy and scandalous Gothic novelist William Beckford (1760-1844) when he was a teenager traveling on the Continent with a tutor. Smart, who painted King Edward VII, President Warren Harding, and many other celebrities of his day, is now almost unknown, and we can find no record of the self-portrait depicted in the photograph. The reproduction, inscribed on the back in 1938, “To my artistic friend Ray L. Murphy from a self-portrait E. Hodgson Smart,” was probably laid in by a later owner. Found in: Sallust. Histoire de la république romaine. Dijon: Chez L. N. Frantin, 1777









“Happy Birthday Aaron”

Material related to an 80th birthday celebration for Aaron Copland (1900-1990), one of the most respected American classical composers of the 20th century, held at the St. Regis Hotel, New York, on November 15, 1980. The engraved invitation and two napkins with a personalized greeting printed in red were found in a book donated by the writer and academic Gerald Sykes (1903-1984), whose papers are at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. These materials, once enclosed in a book and then forgotten, will complement Sykes’s collection. Found in: Copland, Aaron. The new music, 1900-1960. Revised and enlarged edition. New York: W. W. Norton, c1968

Bottle of Seconal Prescribed for Tennessee Williams

“On my last visit to his [Tennessee Williams’s] empty Key West house, the only object remaining in all those vacant rooms was an empty bottle of Seconal prescribed to him. I took it and later gave [it] to Columbia. I was amazed to find that bottle, alone of all he owned, left behind — he died of Seconal poisoning.” (From Dotson Rader’s letter to RBML. November 15, 2019). Dotson Rader Papers









Diplomatic Games

These French lottery tickets (Loterie Nationale, Paris, 1937) were found among the correspondence of the Chinese Embassy in Paris files in the V. K. Wellington Koo papers during archival processing. Most likely, either Koo or a member of the Embassy staff purchased these lottery tickets and left them in an official file one day at the Embassy. Did they win? Also, some lottery tickets contain distribution information on the back: Comptoir des Champs-Élysées, Participation aux loteries, 129 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, Balzac 55.27. This address points to an entertainment and shopping building that is a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe according to Google Maps. K. Wellington Koo Papers, Box 273 Folder 11

Beauty Held in Place

The hairpin, possibly worn by Sylvia Ardyn Boone, was found among her papers during processing. Sylvia Ardyn Boone (1940-1993) was an African-American art historian specializing in African art, particularly focusing on the Mende people of Sierra Leone, female imagery, standards of beauty, and masks. She was also the first Black woman to receive a tenured professorship at Yale University. Sylvia Ardyn Boone papers, Box 59 folder 12







No Sniffles Can Survive

This envelope with a couple of pills was found among the papers of Dotson Rader, an American author and playwright. According to Ethel Kennedy, who had sent the magic pills to her sick friend, sniffles had no chance against them. The envelope was never opened. Dotson Rader Papers









A Note to My Love

We do not know who wrote or received this fond note found between the pages of William Somerset Maugham’s work. It is one of those little mysterious traces of a bygone life uncovered during book processing. Maugham, William Somerset. W. Somerset Maugham’s Introduction to modern English and American literature. New York: The New Home Library,  c1943









Christmas Greetings from Sing Sing

This Christmas broadside was enclosed between the pages of a book by John T. Winterich (1891-1970), well known in his day for crime fiction reviews in a column titled “The Criminal Record.” He and his wife Emily lived in Ossining, near the famous Sing Sing prison, so it was doubly appropriate that they chose a woodcut of an armed guard in front of a jail cell to illustrate their Christmas spirit. Found in: Shakespeare, William. Much ado about nothing : a comedy in five acts / by William Shakspere [sic]; as arranged for production at Daly’s Theatre, by Augustin Daly ; with an introductory chapter by William Winter. [New York, N.Y.?]: Privately printed for Mr. Daly, 1897 (London : J. Miles & Co.)

Interoffice Air Mail 1970s Style

Found among workplace archival files, this paper airplane, resembling the now-defunct Concorde, contains lines to write down messages. In the days before email and text messaging it was a fun idea for interoffice communication. You can clearly picture it – professionals throwing paper airplanes, lined with evidently important messages, at each other via innovative air mail.