Before the Decepticons: early projected images from the Victor Animatograph Company

In the days before Decepticons and Autobots, Viopticons, Stereopticons, and the other members of the Magic Lantern family thrilled audiences in darkened rooms. While perhaps difficult for us to imagine from our movie-savy perspective, for many years before the advent of cinema people went out to the “picture show” to look at slides.  Theatergoers were captivated by the magical effect of these projected images. Eventually, enterprising showmen added musicians and sound effects to enhance the show–even animating the images by various mechanical techniques. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, phantasmagoria shows left audiences shivering with terror for fear that ghosts and demons had been set upon them.

The Texas Collection recently uncovered two boxes of glass slides manufactured by the Victor Animatograph Co. of Davenport, Iowa. These slides were 2 x 2.25 inches and were shown on the Viopticon, the first truly portable stereopticon. The Vioptican projected images using a brilliant carbon arc lamp.  Sets of Viopticon slides were available for purchase or rent as illustrated lectures. Our two sets of slides were used by Baylor history professor Francis Gevrier Guittard in the early 1900s. One set contains hand-tinted photographs of Yellowstone National Park, and the other set depicts important events from the life of George Washington during the American Revolution. While these slides were not part of a spectacular Magic Lantern theater experience, they represent an early example of educational technology as manufacturers began to promote the use of projectors in the classroom.

The inventor of the Viopticon, Alexander Victor, lived a fascinating life. Born in Sweden in 1878, his first career was as a magician and showman working with the renowned Stephanio. Victor had obtained an early Lumiere Cinematograph and added projected pictures to Stephanio’s show, much to audience delight.  After Stephanio’s death, Victor continued touring with his own troupe, but a warehouse fire in Ohio destroyed his entire collection of magical props and his career as a performer ended.

Despite this setback, the astonishingly creative Victor began again, and went on to invent the first electric washing machine for the White Lily Company.   In keeping with his interest in projected images, and recognizing that there could be a larger market for motion pictures than as entertainment, Victor next invented what may be the first amateur 16mm movie camera and projector.  In 1915, realizing that the danger created from highly flammable nitrate film stock would limit market growth in schools, businesses, and churches, Victor began pushing the film industry to adopt new safety standards and move to cellulose acetate “safety film.”

You can see a slideshow of these Viopticon images and imagine yourself in an early 20th century classroom by visiting our flickr page. For the Yellowstone slides click here, and for George Washington, click here.

A bit of postal history: advertising covers from the Burleson Collection

The internet is constantly delighting me with Interesting Things I Didn’t Know.  The other day a colleague handed me a stack of 19th century envelopes.  Now, I had never considered a world without “store bought” envelopes, but it turns out that, prior to the 1840s, that was exactly the way the world worked:  you had to cut and fold your own. It wasn’t until 1840 that George Wilson patented a process of tiling envelope patterns on a large sheet of paper, and not until 1845 that Edwin Hill and Warren De la Rue obtained a patent for a steam-driven machine that not only cut out the envelope shapes but creased and folded them. Hill and De la Rue displayed their machine at the Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition of 1851–along with the Koh-i-Noor, the world’s largest known diamond at the time, Samuel Colt’s prototype for the Colt Navy revolver, and one of the world’s earliest voting machines.  Who would have thought that making envelopes could be so interesting as to merit a spot in the Crystal Palace?

But as I learned, the fascinating history of envelopes, or covers, as they are known, continues.  During the Civil War paper was extremely scarce, so hand-made envelopes were created out of wrapping paper, tax receipts, wallpaper, flyleaves torn from books, maps, music sheets, or other available materials. These handmade envelopes are referred to as “adversity covers” and they are considered quite collectible. People at this time also used envelopes for propaganda purposes, printing or drawing cartoons, emblems, pictures and messages that expressed their political sentiments. Collectors call these bits of postal history “patriotic covers.”

In the latter part of the 1800s, businesses began to create printed envelopes. These advertising covers could be printed with anything from a simple corner card (picture and return address) to elaborate decorations and ad copy covering much of the envelope.  Early advertising covers eventually led to both the cacheted first day cover and modern junk mail.

At The Texas Collection, we have a group of 19th century advertising covers from the Rufus Burleson Collection which you can see displayed on our flickr page. These envelopes are from all over Texas and come from a range of businesses and colleges. They’re stamped on the front with a postmark from the sending post office and on the back with the receiving post office. We hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into life in the late 1800s.

Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West and Great Far East


The stories we tell ourselves about our past become as much a part of our identity as the truth of our history.  The mythological American West–the Wild West–with its stories of rugged individualism, resourcefulness, and courage, began to take hold in the public imagination decades before the Civil War. Prior to the turn of the century, some people began to think that the settling of the frontier had formed our national character; that what is essentially American about the United States can be found in western frontier, not eastern culture.

The idea that “All Americans are Cowboys at heart” has great worldwide appeal.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, romanticized tales of cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawmen could be found in dime novels and popular music, but it was the Wild West  Show that brought the drama of the Old West right to your home town. Popular before the advent of radio or movies with sound, the Wild West Show was part circus, part vaudeville, part rodeo, and all spectacle–under the guise of historical accuracy. Wild West Shows celebrated a vanishing culture while allowing easterners and Europeans to experience the excitement of the legendary frontier.

The most famous of the Wild West shows was, of course, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which ran from 1883 to 1913. However, an enterprising Oklahoman, Gordon W. Lillie, “Pawnee Bill,” was also quite famous in his day. Pawnee Bill was an astute businessman whose traveling shows (Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West and Great Far East) thrilled audiences with demonstrations of horsemanship and marksmanship, including that of his wife, May Manning Lillie, “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.”  His exhibitions featured reenactments of historical events, showing stagecoach attacks, daring rescues, and battles with Indians. The Great Far East show included the “spectacle of the war between the Russians and the Japanese” which enlisted “the services of over five hundred people and horses.” Among his ever-changing troupe were Arab jugglers, Mexican cowboys, Cossacks, Japanese, and Pawnee.   And, while celebrating the astonishing equestrian accomplishments of the world’s peoples, Pawnee Bill always championed the American Cowboy–“the perfect embodiment of natural chivalry.”  A program from the show describes cowboys as

the most daring, most skillful, most graceful, and most useful horsemen in the world. They fulfill the metaphor of the fabled centaur, believed to have been a demi-god, half horse, half man, only that the cowboy excels the centaur in being an independent man who controlled the best points of the quadruped and made “man’s best friend” subservient to his needs, his pleasures and his pastimes. Without the cowboy, civilization would have been hemmed in, and the fair States and Territories of the glorious West would have remained a howling wilderness to date.

Show business has always been an up-and-down experience financially. In 1908, Gordon Lillie invested in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, which was deeply in debt. The “Two Bills” show was successful for a time, especially during its run as Buffalo Bill’s farewell tour, but eventually the enterprise failed when Cody’s creditors foreclosed in 1913.

After that, Pawnee Bill and May Lillie settled down on their buffalo ranch on Blue Hawk Peak, near Pawnee, OK.  Lillie continued as a businessman and invested in banking, oil, and real estate. Still interested in the entertainment industry, but looking to the future, he started a movie production company on his ranch.  In 1935, May died as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident.  Pawnee Bill died in his sleep in 1942.

If you ever find yourself looking for excitement, you can learn more about Pawnee Bill and the American West right here at The Texas Collection.  The Adams-Blakley Collection contains several souvenir items from The Historic Wild West and Great Far East Shows, and The Texas Collection has a significant number of Dime Novels. Don’t expect it all to be true, but it is great fun.

(Click on the center of any image in the slideshow to see it full-sized.)

Many thanks to Michael Toon for assistance with Dime novels at The Texas Collection.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: a collection of characters from the Adams-Blakley Collection

If you love real-life stories of the cowboys and outlaws, lawmen and showmen of the American West, now is the time for you to visit The Texas Collection. Currently on display are some choice titles from the Adams-Blakley Collection–an amazing group of books assembled by Ramon F. Adams, the Western bibliographer, lexicographer, and author, for William A. Blakley, a U.S. Senator from Texas.  The collection, which was given to Baylor University in 1971 by William Blakley, contains books capturing the excitement and the struggle of Westward Expansion and telling the story of the larger-than-life characters who made it happen. The collection includes close to 3000 works of history, biography, fiction, ranching and branding, promotional literature, poetry, art and folksong, and works on hunting, trapping, and roping. Many of these are rare titles and first editions, often beautifully bound, and signed by their authors. Stop by the Texas Collection to enjoy this exhibit which runs through June 30, 2011.

Click here to listen to a field recording of cowboy songs and poetry from the Adams-Blakley Collection.

Special thanks to Chuck “Drag” Treadwell for sharing his musical and interpretive talents and to Ian Campbell for production assistance. As always, thanks to Lance Grigsby for his support and enthusiasm for new ventures.

The Texas Collection gets social

The Texas Collection is now on Facebook! Be sure to visit our page to find fun facts, links, and pictures, along with the latest news and information about the collection. You can connect with us at or by clicking on the blue facebook icon in the sidebar to the right. We look forward to seeing you there!

Hands Across the Water: Twelve Sermons, 1710

Sometimes people save the most extraordinary things. But then the collector passes, and the object’s meaning or importance becomes hidden. When this happens, years may go by before context is restored. Archivists and librarians are constantly working to understand the materials they preserve and share, but sometimes, even a skilled researcher can use a helping hand.

Included in a collection given to us by Ms. Pit Dodson, were items owned by her great aunt, Mrs. Sadie McConnell of Houston. Among some very interesting ephemera (the subject of a future blog post) were three books written by Englishmen. Mrs. McConnell’s husband was English, so finding books from England was not surprising, but one title did have quite a story to tell. The volume was a pocket-sized book, dating from 1710 and entitled Twelve Sermons Formerly Preach’d by the Reverend Mr. John Cock, Vicar of St. Oswalds, Durham. To which is prefix’d, a short Preface by the Reverend Dr. George Hickes.

Twelve Sermons was a book given to members of the parish of St. Oswald’s in Durham, England by Rev. John Cock. The sermons were meant to be his dying legacy of instruction to them. According to the preface, only about 300 copies were printed.  Should a family leave the Parish they were instructed to leave the book as an “Heirloom to the House, for the use of the next Family” and told that the book should “not be carry’d out of the Parish of St. Oswalds.” Obviously, something had happened to our copy, which had certainly left the parish!

Unable to find any other copies of Twelve Sermons online, and having learned only a little about John Cock, we decided to write St. Oswald’s to see what they could tell us. The parish office kindly forwarded our email to Beth Rainey, the secretary of the Parochial Church Council and a retired librarian formerly on the staff of Durham University Library’s department of Archives and Special Collections.

Ms. Rainey was wonderfully helpful, telling us:

“As you’ve discovered, it is a rare book, but Durham University Library has a copy…and I also know of copies in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and in York Minster Library….Like Hickes [who wrote the preface-awc], Cock was a Non-Juror, who was deprived of his living in 1690. He moved to London, but very generously maintained his interest in his St Oswald’s. He seems to have left most of his large and distinguished library behind in the vicarage here and eventually bequeathed it to the parish, where it remained until a vicar blithely sold it off without benefit of faculty in 1929. The sale had taken place before the church authorities woke up to what was happening, and the collection was very thoroughly dispersed…Cock also left money for a variety of charitable purposes in the parish, some of which still survive today.”

The 400 “non-juring clergy” in whom John Cock was included, lived at a very tumultuous time when schism split the Anglican Church after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. George Hickes, who wrote the preface to Twelve Sermons, was the last surviving non-juring bishop. A note by John Cock is recorded as follows:

“March 27, 1666 The vicaridge of St. Oswald’s was this day bestowed upon mee by the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedrall Church of Durham–A.D. 1691 I was deprived of it for not swearing allegiance to William & Maria , as king and Queen of England. Deo Gloria.  Amen–John Cock.”

The bequest of which Ms. Rainey spoke, reads as follows

The Rev. John Cock, A.M. vicar of St. Oswald, by his will dated 27 May, 1701, bequeathed to certain trustees a sum of £600, to purchase freehold lands and tenements, and to pay the proceeds thereof to the minister and churchwardens, who are to distribute the same yearly in the following manner, viz. £2 10s. to be expended in purchasing bibles, common prayer-books, “˜Whole Duty of Man,’ “˜Explanation of the Creed,’ &c . for the poor inhabitants; £5 in phisic and other relief for the sick poor; £5 a year for clothes for poor widows and widowers, or other poor-house keepers, and £5 in money; £4 to teach indigent children to read, spin, knit, and sew; £6 for setting out yearly, one boy, being the son of an inhabitant;” and the surplus to be applied to similar charitable purposes.*

* A table of these charities is directed to be read by the minister in St. Oswald’s Church once a year.

It’s easy to look at an old book on someone’s shelf and think it’s “just another old book,” but this new arrival traveled a long and perilous path to get to The Texas Collection. As we retraced that journey we discovered that it had been touched by many hands: priests, parishioners, book dealers, collectors, and librarians. How fortunate for it to survive for three hundred years! How wonderful to know even part of its history.

We were not orphans — Stories from the Waco State Home

“We were not orphans. Our parents were living; they just couldn’t take care of us.” This poignant remark captures the heartbreaking reality faced by thousands of “dependent and neglected” children from the 1920s through the 1970s who grew up at The Waco State Home.

On Friday, February 25, 2011 at 3:00 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium (Draper Academic Building), TheTexas Collection presents an afternoon with noted advocate and former Baylor student, Sherry Matthews, author of We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home.

A book signing and reception will follow at The Texas Collection. The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to or by calling 512.600.3711

Catch ‘Em Alive Jack

One of my fellow librarians at The Texas Collection tells me that if I get through a day without learning something new, I’m not doing my job. Well, yesterday I learned about a larger-than-life Texas cowboy: John “Catch-Em Alive Jack” Abernathy.

I was cataloging some items from the Adams-Blakley Collection–a fabulous group of books assembled by Ramon F. Adams, the Western bibliographer, lexicographer, and author, for William A. Blakley, a U.S. Senator from Texas.   In that collection I came upon A Son of the Frontier by John Abernathy, and I saw a picture of Abernathy, a wolf, and Theodore Roosevelt. I had to find out more, and here’s the story.

Jack Abernathy was born in 1876, in Bosque County, Texas not too far from Waco. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and a piano and organ salesman, but became famous for catching over a thousand wolves alive with his bare hands.  It seems that Abernathy once accidentally discovered that by thrusting his hand into an attacking wolf’s mouth and holding the lower jaw to keep it from closing, he could capture the animal without losing the hand. Teddy Roosevelt heard about his unique skill, and arranged to join Abernathy in Oklahoma for six days of wolf-coursing. They say that the president wanted to try Abernathy’s technique himself, but the Secret Service talked him out of it.  A wise decision, for in his book Abernathy notes,

“Men whom I have tried to teach the art of wolf catching have failed to accomplish the feat. I have tried to teach a large number, but when the savage animal would clamp down on the hand, the student would become frightened and quit. Consequently, the wolf would ruin the hand.” (p.20)

Roosevelt was quite taken with “Catch “˜Em Alive Jack” and appointed him the youngest U.S. Marshal in history. As U.S. Marshal for Oklahoma, Abernathy “captured hundreds of outlaws single-handed and alone, and placed seven hundred and eighty-two men in the penitentiary.” (p.1)

One final note: Abernathy’s sons Louie (Bud) and Temple became famous in their own right. In 1910, at the age of 10 and 6, they rode alone on horseback from their home in Frederick, Oklahoma to New York City to greet President Roosevelt upon his return from a trip to Europe and Africa. Several years later they set out for further adventures on an Indian motorcycle. Temple tells about their journeys in Bud and Me: the True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys.

Jack Abernathy’s story is only one of the many great titles that make up the Adams-Blakley Collection.  There are outlaws and lawmen, pioneers and entrepreneurs. Someday, we’ll have to sit a spell and I’ll tell you more.

Abernathy kids  (LOC)

Best around town

One of our recent experiments over on Flickr is a gallery of our favorite images of Waco. We searched through hundreds of photographs posted on the Flickr photosharing site, and found some terrific shots taken by folks who live here or were visiting the area. These photographs aren’t owned by The Texas Collection; instead they represent a virtual collection of people’s creative responses to Waco. You can find information on individual photographers by clicking on the images.

We hope you’ll enjoy the show!

Updated June 27, 2012: You’ll see something a little different in this slideshow now–instead of just favorite Waco photos, we’re starting to add favorites from other special collections too that we find on Flickr. Enjoy a trip through all kinds of interesting places!

New at The Texas Collection!

The Texas Collection is delighted to announce the appointment of John S. Wilson as its new Director. John came to Baylor University in 1987, and over the years has worked as the Director of Library Development and the Head of Government Documents. Arriving at The Texas Collection as Associate Director, he has for the past six months served as our Interim Director.

John’s vision and leadership have been in great evidence here at The Texas Collection. He has mobilized a dedicated and hard-working staff to organize and improve working space in Carroll Library, converting two storage areas into a classroom and a working preservation lab. He has also been the force behind two major exhibits: “Texas, Our Texas,” a special exhibit of the wide range of extraordinary materials to be found in the collection;   and “Mapping it Out: A Cartographic History of Texas,” an exhibit of rare and important maps accompanying the dedication and opening of the newly renovated Frances C. Poage Map Room.

Finally, John is a true believer in the unique value of The Texas Collection. His enthusiasm for exploring and developing its riches is contagious, and we are all looking forward to finding new and interesting ways to share the best of Texana under his leadership.