Cataloger’s Corner: Ptolemy and the Problem of Taprobana

by Allie McCormack, Rare Books Catalog Librarian for Baylor Libraries

For this installment of Cataloger’s Corner, I’d like to share with you one of the oldest books held at The Texas Collection: a 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia. Not only is the book itself quite old, but it was acquired very early in the history of The Texas Collection through a unique program called the McGregor Plan for the Encouragement of Book Collecting by American College Libraries that operated during the 1930s.

Instructional page from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.The Geographia, sometimes called the Cosmographia, is special for many reasons. A revision of a now-lost atlas by Marinus of Tyre, it was compiled around 150 CE by Claudius Ptolemy using new principles and additional Roman and Persian sources. It was translated into Arabic in the 9th century and Latin in 1406, going through many editions in each language.

A large portion of Ptolemy’s work was dedicated to cartographic principles. Specifically, he improved the treatment of map projections—the system that lets cartographers map a round object like the globe onto a flat plane like a map—and gave readers instructions on how to recreate his maps. He also provided latitude and longitude coordinates for all the places and geographical features in the book.

Ptolemy’s original map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Geographia.Of course, the ancient Romans were only aware of about a quarter of the globe; Ptolemy’s European maps didn’t include Scandinavia, for example, let alone North or South America. Later editions added additional maps to represent new knowledge. During the Age of Exploration, when Europeans launched extensive overseas exploration parties, new editions included as many as 64 regional maps. Old maps also had to be altered to reflect these discoveries.

Revised version of Ptolemy’s world map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Geographia.What I want to focus on here is one of the more curious geographical features mapped in the Geographia: the island of Taprobana. Don’t worry if that name doesn’t sound familiar: this place was known to the Greeks before the time of Alexander the Great, but modern scholars have no idea to what land it corresponds. On the map above, based on Ptolemy’s original world map, it is situated south of India and might represent Sri Lanka. However, on the map to the left, which is based on geographical knowledge of the 1560s, Sri Lanka is clearly marked with a Z (Zeelan, a strange Latinization of the Portuguese Ceilão, from whence the English term Ceylon). Instead, the position of Taprobana might correlate with the island of Sumatra.

Map showing Camatra from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.But wait! A map of the area between the Adaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand has Sumatra marked as Camatra. Below it is the island of Java (marked Iava, as Latin orthography often did not include the letter J). If Taprobana isn’t Sri Lanka or Sumatra, what is it?

Some scholars think Taprobana is a phantom island, a geographical feature that shows up on maps for many years until subsequent explorations of the area fail to find the land mass. Others think the ancient Greeks and Romans simply miscalculated the location of Sri Lanka on their maps. They use linguistic evidence to bolster their argument: according to the Mahavamsa, a 5th century CE document written in the Pali language that chronicles the history of the kings of Sri Lanka, the legendary Prince Vijaya named the land Tambapanni (“copper-red hands” or “copper-red earth”) because his followers’ hands were reddened by the soil on the island.

Map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.Perhaps later cartographers kept both Sri Lanka and Taprobana on their maps because they respected Ptolemy’s authority. Indeed, until the scientific revolution, previous scholarship was so revered that new discoveries which repudiated established fact were viewed with suspicion, or shoehorned into existing systems of thought even when there were obvious contradictions. Or, maybe the cartographers simply couldn’t rule out the existence of Taprobana and included it in their maps in case it was one day discovered. It remains a mystery.

Baylor University holds other works by Ptolemy, which you can see here. If you’re interested in other early geographical works, click here. If you’d specifically like to see early atlases, follow this link.

Cataloger’s Corner: The Age of Exploration in Italiano

by Allie McCormack, Rare Books Catalog Librarian for Baylor Libraries

Welcome back to Cataloger’s Corner! In my second article for this series, I’d like to tell you about an amazing book The Texas Collection purchased last year: the first Italian edition of Francisco López de Gómara’s account of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, La Historia Generale delle Indie Occidentali, from 1556.

Gómara became the private chaplain of famed conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1540. This relationship gave him easy access to other Spaniards who had traveled to Mexico with Cortés. In 1552, he compiled interviews with these explorers, as well as manuscript accounts written by missionaries and Caribbean governors, to form the book Primera y Segunda Parte de la Historia General de las Indias. The work was extremely popular and had at least 50 editions in Spanish, Italian, French, and English through 1600.

However, Gómara’s contemporaries strongly criticized the book. Prominent writers like Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who had been a soldier under Cortés, thought Gómara focused too much on his former boss without giving due credit to others involved in the campaign, and Friar Bartolomé de las Casas thought he glossed over the atrocities Cortés committed against indigenous peoples in the Americas. Even the Spanish Crown found fault with the book, perhaps for its criticism directed against Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and Philip II officially banned its publication in Spain in a 1553 decree. However, copies in Spanish continued to be printed in Antwerp and Rome throughout the 16th century. The publication ban was formally ended in 1757.

Title page of La Historia Generale delle Indie Occidentali (1556)The Texas Collection’s copy of the Historia is no longer in its original binding, but the pages are remarkably clean with only a hint of water damage. At some point, a former owner or bookseller put a strip of paper just above the publication statement on the title page. My guess is that a fancy filigree or other kind of illustration was cut out of the book, and someone filled in the hole to minimize further ripping or stress to the page.

The text is set in italic type, a cursive font based on 15th and 16th-century calligraphy. Today we only use italics to emphasize part of a text, but it used to be used throughout books.

Page 79 of La Historia Generale delle Indie Occidentali (1556)This image showcases the lovely initials used at the beginning of most chapters. Each letters has an architectural background, some of which are identifiable buildings while others are more generic.

If you look in the bottom right corner of the page, you will see evidence that a bookworm has been in this book. Yes, bookworms are real—but the term can refer to any insect that bores through books. Cloth bindings can attract moths, while certain varieties of beetles will attack leather or wooden bindings. Tiny wingless bugs of the order Psocoptera feed mainly on mold and other organic material found on the pages of books. These insects are more likely to be a danger to books that are housed in damp, humid spaces, which is why the special collections librarians at Baylor are so strict about climate control in the libraries.

Bison illustration inside La Historia Generale delle Indie Occidentali (1556)One of the most important features of this book can be found on page 202: an early image of the bison. (According to research done by Gunter Sehmi, the earliest European illustration of a bison was found in the first edition of Gómara’s book.) Interestingly, it is the only illustration in the entire book and comes before the chapter “Delle vacche gobbe che ci sonno in Quivira,” or “On the humpback cows that are in Quivira.” The explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition north from Mexico to search for the mythical “Seven Cities of Gold;” when he failed to find them, he instead turned east to look for a wealthy civilization the Pueblo Indians called Quivira. However, when Coronado finally reached it, he was unable to find any gold. The exact location of this settlement is uncertain, but historians and archaeologists think it was likely in central Kansas.

If you’d like to read the original Spanish text of this book in a modern edition, you can find it in Moody Library at Baylor University. To find other early descriptions of the Americas held by The Texas Collection, follow this link.

iSehm, Gunter G. (1991). “The first European bison illustration and the first Central European exhibit of a living bison. With a table of the sixteenth century editions of Francisco López de Gómara.” Archives of Natural History 18 (3): 323-332.

Cataloger’s Corner: 1743 Bible designed by Christoph Sauer

by Allie McCormack, Rare Books Catalog Librarian for Baylor Libraries

Hello! I’m Allie McCormack, the Rare Books Catalog Librarian for the Baylor Libraries. Though you may not be familiar with my title, I think I have one of the best jobs on campus. I create bibliographic records for the rare, historical, or otherwise “special” books at Baylor—meaning that I get a sneak peek of everything before it’s put on the shelf. The Texas Collection invited me to write about some of my favorite items from their collection, so I’ll be posting a series of guest entries about some of the oldest, rarest, and most interesting things I’ve cataloged for them.

The first book I want to share with you is a copy of the first Bible printed the American colonies in a European language: a 1743 Bible designed by the famed Pennsylvania printer Christoph Sauer. The first Bible printed in the colonies, the so-called “Eliot Indian Bible,” dates to 1663 and was in a dialect of Algonquian, a language spoken by Native Americans in Massachusetts.

Sauer was born in Germany and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1724, settling in the aptly-named Germantown among other families from his homeland. At first, Sauer imported Bibles and other religious books directly from Germany, but he started his own printing and publishing business in 1735. Only 1,200 copies of this Bible, based on Martin Luther’s translation, were printed. It would be another 40 years before an English-language Bible was printed in North America.

Side view of Christoph Sauer's 1743 BibleRemarkably, The Texas Collection’s copy appears to be in its original leather binding. You can see here the remnants of the original brass clasps. The thin leather strips they were attached to break very easily. It’s not obvious in this photo, but a later owner tried to reattach them with staples!

Title page of Christoph Sauer's 1743 BibleThis next image shows the impressive title page. The typeface used is called Fraktur. We may find it hard to read, but it was the preferred font for German printers through the end of World War II. Jack-of-all-trades Benjamin Franklin was the main supplier of printed texts to Pennsylvania German communities before Sauer, but he only used Roman typefaces (think Times New Roman). Sauer imported type from Frankfurt for his business, and German readers responded enthusiastically to the familiar style.

First pages of Christoph Sauer 's 1743 BibleHere are the first pages of the Bible: the index and the “First Book of Moses.” Note that it’s not called Genesis in this Bible. Similarly, Exodus is referred to as the “Second Book of Moses” and so on. If you look closely, you’ll see that not all of the text is in Fraktur. Sauer used Roman type to show cross-references and allusions in Scripture. Using two different typefaces like this isn’t uncommon in German printing, though Fraktur is almost always used for the main body of text.

Interior of Christoph Sauer's 1743 BibleI’ll leave you with an unexpected surprise I found in this book—pressed flowers! It’s not unusual for me to find plants, newspaper clippings, receipts, and other ephemera in the books I catalog, but I rarely see more than one per volume. This Bible had three flowers that I noticed, and there are likely more hidden between the pages. The curators and I chose to leave them in to document how owners throughout the years used the book. If you come across something like this as you explore special collections materials, please be sure to ask a librarian before removing it!

If you’d like to look at another book printed by Christoph Sauer, make an appointment to see this Psalm- and hymn-book from 1753 held by Crouch Fine Arts Library. To find early Bibles and Biblical commentaries held by the Baylor special collections libraries, follow this link. If you’d like to look at other rare German books, these are available at the Texas Collection, while there are many more across campus.

Introducing Brandice Nelson, Map Curator and Coordinator for the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair

We are pleased to welcome the newest member of The Texas Collection, Brandice Nelson. Ms. Nelson is our new Map Curator and serves as the Coordinator for the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair. Contact her with any map inquiries through the Frances C. Poage Map Room and for the History Fair through their website, Twitter, or Facebook.

Photo of Brandice Nelson
Brandice Nelson, Heart of Texas Regional History Fair Coordinator and Map Curator

My name is Brandice Nelson and I’m the new Heart of Texas Regional History Fair Coordinator and Map Curator. I’ve earned both a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from Baylor University. I always knew I wanted to be involved in history and museums, but education was the furthest thing from my mind until I got involved with National History Day. As a homeschooler, approaching history from unconventional avenues was definitely appealing. I competed in the senior individual performance category throughout high school, and even though I didn’t make it to nationals, I learned so much about the topics I chose.

Fast-forward to my junior year of college, I found out that Baylor hosted the regional history competition on campus and jumped at the chance to be involved. If you’ve attended a fair within the last four years, it’s likely you’ve seen me at the information desk, directing volunteers, or judging my own former category. It can seem like an extremely hectic and even chaotic atmosphere, but I absolutely live for those two February days when young historians from across our region bring all their hard work to life.

My main goal for the next few years is to grow the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair (HOTRHF) into both a campus and city wide event. I also want to find ways to ensure that students in low-income districts have access to the research tools and assistance they need to create successful projects. Depending on the cooperation of the 76 school districts in our region, in addition to private schools and homeschool co-ops, HOTRHF has the potential to double in size within the next few years. I want to make that happen.

When not working with the history fair, you can find me in the map room assisting researchers and possibly doing a little research myself. The Texas Collection has a fantastic collection of Texas and Texas-related maps, and part of my job will be to enhance public awareness of this great resource. It’s clear I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m very glad to be part of the team!

Summer at The Texas Collection: Students Share Their Findings

This month we are featuring two students that worked at The Texas Collection over the summer. Check out the collections they worked with while they were here!

History doctoral student Joel Iliff

While scholars of pedagogy speak of “flipping the classroom,” I feel that my work at The Texas Collection has been an exercise in “flipping the archives.” By this I mean that as a historian I have long been accustomed to working with archival materials that others have preserved and organized, but now I have preserved and organized materials for others to use.

Photo of Julia and Finlay Graham with son James
Julia and Finlay Graham with son James. You’ll find this photograph in Julia and Finlay Graham papers #4003, box 38, folder 7, at The Texas Collection, Baylor University. Rights: Some rights reserved. E-mail for information about the use of our images. Visit for more information about our collections.

Instead of letting me get my feet wet with a small collection, the processing archivist, Paul Fisher, began my internship with a metaphorical cannonball into the 72 document boxes of the Julia and Finlay Graham papers. Hailing from Texas and Scotland, respectively, Julia and Finlay Graham met in post-World World II Palestine and served in the Middle East as Southern Baptist missionaries for the next forty years. Though most of the collection documents their teaching and evangelistic ministries, their papers also contain glimpses into the politics of the Middle East, as the Grahams witnessed events such as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Lebanese Civil War. After removing hundreds of duplicate pages, I reduced the 72 box leviathan to 50 boxes and a finding aid.

Closer to home, I also processed and created a finding aid for the records of the Waco Regional Baptist Association. Founded in 1860, the association remains a vital institution for Baptists in central Texas. I was particularly interested in the association’s records from the 1950s through the early 1970s, which provide a wealth of information on race and religion in central Texas in the era of the Civil Rights movement.

The historian in me constantly envisioned how these collections could contribute to studies of the modern Middle East, twentieth-century Baptist missions, the Civil Rights movement, and a myriad of other topics. Although these studies will have to be written by other scholars, I hope that I have made their jobs easier through my work over the summer.

Museum Studies graduate student Valencia Johnson

Photo of Valencia Johnson, Museum Studies graduate student
Valencia Johnson, Museum Studies graduate student, at The Texas Collection.

For an aspiring archivist with my disposition and imagination, spending time with papers is ideal. At a certain point in processing archival documents, the collection becomes a real entity; life reenters the boxes, and a complex picture emerges. This reanimation is what I learned in my time at the Texas Collection working on the W.R. White papers. His world, voice, and experience had been locked away for decades, and now they are tangible again.

The collection has been a joy and a challenge. I processed a small four box collection for The Texas Collection in the spring, but W.R. White’s collection held 226 boxes—I had entered the big leagues. Undertaking such a vast and diverse collection has deepened my knowledge and appreciation of archival work.

Pro Archives, Pro Futuris

Amanda Norman, University Archivist
Amanda Norman

By Amanda Norman

A few years ago at a Christmas party, I was asked, “Why bother to keep historical records? Why not reboot every hundred years or so with a clean slate? We don’t know that much about the 1600s, and that doesn’t really hurt us.”

View from the backboard
Archival records document important changes in history, such as when Title IX was passed and began to support the growth of university women’s athletics. Here, Baylor athletics all-star Suzie Snider Eppers makes a shot in a 1970s practice scrimmage. Olga Fallen papers, box 38.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to explain to this new acquaintance about the importance of records in understanding where we’ve been, so we can make better choices moving forward. I told him about how records are invaluable resources for people, businesses, governments, and other organizations. I reminded that we do, in fact, know quite a bit about the events of the 1600s, thanks to records, and without them, we wouldn’t know about major events like civil wars, plagues, religious movements, and more—events that shape our contemporary life, even if in ways that aren’t readily apparent.

But I don’t think I really got through to him, and that left me feeling dissatisfied with my response. When considering archives and historical preservation, perhaps the natural impulse is to think that these efforts are for the past. That old things document past people, past places, past events. And while that view is partially true, the real function of archives is so much more.

Baylor University School of Business, IBM 405 Electric Punched Card Accounting Machine, c.1950s (1)
Archives help us remember a time when this was cutting-edge technology! Students gather around an IBM 405 Electric Punched Card Accounting Machine, c.1950s. Baylor photo files: Baylor-Departments-Hankamer School of Business.

Frank Guittard's Baylor Homecoming parade notes (page 5), 1915
Archives show the history of longstanding traditions, like Baylor’s Homecoming parade. Frank Guittard was in charge of coordinating Baylor’s second Homecoming parade in 1915. On this page of notes on his guidelines to parade participants, he tells them the end of the route and how to march. Francis Gevrier Guittard papers, box 20, folder 4.

We keep archives for the future. Archival records retain their value as they are used, today, tomorrow, and for our descendants. Every time a researcher finds that turning point journal entry, that critical line entry in a ledger book, that changing boundary on a map, that influential piece of correspondence—every time a researcher gains new knowledge, the past comes to life. New knowledge leads
to a better future, whether a record tells us where an old burial ground was so we don’t build on top of it, or if it gives us greater insight into the mind of a former U.S. President and how he formed decisions. No matter if the information gained is of local or international impact, of interest to a nation or to one person, the past becomes present when people use archives.

For these reasons, I appreciate the sentiment behind the naming of Baylor’s vision, Pro Futuris. A play on Baylor’s motto, Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, the words remind us that all that we do at a university is in the name of a better future. In my role as University Archivist, I can see through the records that Baylor has changed in many ways…and hasn’t changed at all in others. We’re still discussing many of the same issues that were being discussed decades ago, from diversity to gender politics to what kind of institution we mean to be.

If archives sit on the shelves untouched, then yes, they are of the past. That’s why The Texas Collection is perpetually working to make accessible its records so people can interact with the past and bring it to current relevance—and hopefully, future actions for a better future.

Museum Students in the Archives: Processing Love and Identity

This month we are featuring some collections processed by the Archival Collections and Museums graduate course that was taught at The Texas Collection by Dr. Julie Holcomb, with assistance from TC archivists. Each student in this class processed an archival collection and wrote a publicity piece promoting that record group. Check out a few of these pieces and learn more about the wide array of TC holdings! (See last week’s posts here.)

Finding Mr. Right

Letter from Lewis Preston to Ella Bachman, 1903 April 5
First page of a 1903 letter by Lewis describing his desire for more mail from Ella. Correspondence between the two would cease before the year’s end. (Bachman family papers #2422, box 4, folder 3, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

By Matthew Doyen, Museum Studies graduate student

During the first few weeks that the Bachman family papers were in my hands, I found myself transported back 100 years. Ella Bachman Jones, daughter of J.A. and Addie Bachman, lived in Austin and attended the University of Texas. It was during this collegiate period of her life that Ella started to keep letters that interested suitors would send her way. I can’t be certain that she would have been too keen on me reading her mail—but I am only human and couldn’t help myself.

A young gentleman and fellow Longhorn named Charles Pope Caldwell was one of the first of several to actively write to Ella. I must say that early on I was rooting for Charlie, who would soon graduate from Yale Law School and later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His letters displayed a strong and true affection for his sweetheart but—as one can convey from Ella’s last name—he was unfortunately not her Mr. Right.

Her next suitor was a very heart-on-his-sleeve type of man who was doomed for disaster. Lewis Preston of Beaumont, Texas, owned his own drug company and was certainly fervent in the pursuit of his darling. Despite pouring out his soul several times, I’m afraid Lewis had little chance at success at being her Mr. Right. Around this time, the turn of the twentieth century, she began a correspondence with Charles Edgar Jones.

Letter from Edgar Jones to Ella Bachman, 1902 January 12
First page of a 1902 letter by Edgar explaining how much he misses his sweetheart. At the time, he resided in Lockhart, Texas, and Ella in Austin. (Bachman family papers #2422, box 3, folder 1, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

Edgar, as he was known, was from Lockhart, Texas, and owned the Lockhart Water Works with none other than J.A. Bachman, Ella’s father. It was evident from the century-old letters that this relationship—unlike their business—was meant to last. My favorite part of their journey was when they started to scale back their affectionate lines in fear that J.A. would open a letter and read the scandalous words inside. For a period of time, letters were sent almost once—and sometimes even twice—a day! Most of the time they didn’t say much, just a reminder at how much Edgar missed Ella. The letters didn’t stop until—from what I have gathered—the two said “I Do.” Even though Edgar passed away 33 years before his beautiful wife, he was forever Ella’s Mr. Right.

It was interesting looking at this story from entirely one viewpoint. Since none of Ella’s letters are in this collection—all we can do is imagine her waiting for the letters to arrive, tearing open the envelopes, and reading the same pages. It was definitely a treat to work with this collection (which also includes dozens of letters and other materials received by family members) and relive Ella’s love story.

Fight for Identity: A Baptist Personality Crisis

Memorandum from Jonathan Lindsey to the Baptist Heritage Group, 1991 July 19
In 1991, the Baptist Heritage Study group began their efforts to examine Baylor’s Baptist identity and ways to remain intentional about it. The ripples of this group’s efforts can be seen in Baylor’s various vision statements over the past 25 years. (BU Records: Baptist Heritage Study #BU/357, box 1, folder 4, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

By Amanda Sawyer, Museum Studies graduate student

Throughout the nation in the late twentieth century, religious universities seemed to have lost a sense of who they were. The records of the Baptist Heritage Study show that Baylor University had its own identity crisis in the early 1990s.

A conservative resurgence had been brewing in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for years and, beginning in 1990, the university began to distance itself from ultra-conservative Baptists wanting to dictate curriculum. A change to the university’s charter—spearheaded by President Herbert H. Reynolds—removed some of the sway which fundamentalists held in school policy.

Despite Reynolds’ intentions to strengthen the university, the move caused some to question Baylor’s Baptist identity. In response, Reynolds formed a subcommittee of the Baptist Heritage Group to research the religious and academic commitments of the university. Led by Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Michael Beaty, the committee set out to answer fundamental questions about the influence of religion and denomination upon higher education.

Their early work showed that universities throughout the country were struggling with similar problems. Realizing the issue was bigger than they originally thought, the committee prepared a proposal for a planning grant which was submitted to Lilly Endowment Inc. in January of 1992. After the foundation approved their plan in June, committee members intensified their efforts—including trips to other universities throughout the country considering similar questions.

The committee completed a planning grant proposal in May 1994 which expressed plans for a four-year study of Baylor’s identity. They hoped findings from the study would answer questions about Baylor’s self-understanding as a Christian University in the Baptist tradition while also examining why the charter had changed.

The records—mostly correspondence between committee members—provide a comprehensive view of the university’s fight to balance a strong academic record with denominational ties. Some of the most interesting pieces are messages between committee members as they debate their obligation to tell the trustees about their research. Although the Baptist Heritage Study records conclude with the 1994 grant proposal, it is clear that the group’s research continues to have a lasting impact on the university today.

Museum Students in the Archives: Processing Lawyers and Business Affairs

This month we will be featuring some collections processed by the Archival Collections and Museums graduate course that was taught at The Texas Collection by Dr. Julie Holcomb, with assistance from TC archivists. Each student in this class processed an archival collection and wrote a publicity piece promoting that record group. Check out a few of these pieces and learn more about the wide array of TC holdings!

Guy B. Harrison to Joe L. Wiley (Houghton Mifflin) on behalf of Robert Grundy, 1944 March 15
Among Grundy’s efforts to get his manuscript on Stephen F. Austin published was recruiting the Texas Collection’s own Guy B. Harrison to write a letter on his behalf. (Apparently Harrison had trouble with the typewriter, hence the misspelling of his own name…) Robert A. Grundy papers #30, box 1, folder 1, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Beyond Legal Pursuits

By Courtney Berge, Museum Studies graduate student

The word “lawyer” carries certain connotations. Some people think of paperwork, others shady practices, even more think of good money, nice suits, or the classic TV show, Law and Order. This, however, is not all that any lawyer is. Like anyone else, lawyers have dreams and aspirations beyond their profession. Even though everyone has ideas about the law profession, what do people really know about lawyers? What about the small town local lawyers who are never depicted on TV? What else is there to know about their lives?

Robert Adams Grundy was a small town, local lawyer. Born in Memphis, TX, he graduated from Baylor in 1919 and again in 1930. He worked as a lawyer throughout Central Texas, but ultimately landed in Waco, where he lived until his death in 1973. His papers were donated to Baylor’s Texas Collection, but what one might expect to find in a lawyer’s papers is not what you will find in this collection. The Robert A. Grundy papers include not the business dealings of a lawyer, but the remnants of his dreams as a struggling author. Not only can you delve into his dreams, but you can also catch a glimpse of his family history through the legal and financial documents of the Grundy family.

Grundy wanted to be an author. He completed a few manuscripts, including a biography of Stephen F. Austin and one of Charles Goodnight, both of which can be found in this collection. You can also see the work and effort he put into his writings through the research notes he compiled for his future manuscript on the history of the Jewish people. Sadly, none of his works were published, but you can see the story of the struggle through the rejection letters he filed away.

Within the collection one also finds some of the financial and legal documents pertaining to the Grundy family. These letters, land indentures, deeds, tax assessments, etc. date back into the 19th century and show how a family living in Texas dealt with their roots in Kentucky. They show the business side of managing land in another state.

The Robert A. Grundy papers aren’t the type of collection one would expect from a lawyer. Instead of legal briefs and correspondence you can get a glimpse at the personal aspirations of a Central Texas boy. He was a man who seemingly loved Texas history and history itself, one who wrote books about his passions and hoped to get them published, a man who was more than his profession, and one who has granted us a glimpse into his life.

Tending to the Business of Baylor

History professor J.D. Bragg to business manager George Belew, 1928 June 26
In addition to making reservations for athletics travels and reviewing dining hall menus, Belew apparently also was responsibility for facilities maintenance…and apparently, all buildings didn’t have light fixtures. The letter runs: “Room 205 Main Building is sadly in need of light fixtures. It is impossible on cloudy days for students to read anything on the blackboards or to see clearly to take notes…”

By Chris Paulos, Museum Studies graduate student

It was the 1920s. Prohibition was the law of the land. The air was filled with the sounds of Jazz. Borrowing money to put in the stock market still seemed like a good idea. Two dollars and fifty cents got you reserved seating at a Baylor game.

BU records: Business Affairs Division: Business Manager (George H. Belew) documents the work of George H. Belew at Baylor, while also giving a glimpse into the concerns of the time. Belew was the Business Manager of Baylor University from 1925 until 1931. He would also serve as Secretary and then President of the Baylor Athletics Association and as Secretary to the Baylor Board of Trustees. The collection is broadly divided into two parts. The first contains records of Baylor’s business office, and the second is made up of Belew’s business correspondence.

Among the records are game contracts with Rice University, Texas Christian University, the University of Arkansas, and other institutions. The letters open a window into the behind-the-scenes work which made the football season possible: arranging transportation, taking bids from hotels for rooms and meals (all bacon had to be well drained), finding a good laundry, and hiring officials to oversee the game. One of Belew’s other duties was distributing football tickets by mail. The letters he received alongside the checks form a “Who’s Who” of the wider Baylor community.

The Belew letters are witness to the history of Baylor stadiums, recording the move from Carroll Field to the Cotton Palace in 1926 and the return to Carroll three years later. A 1927 letter from a stadium builder provides a glimpse into what might have been had Baylor not waited until 1950 to inaugurate its own new facility.

Other documents show how daily life at Baylor has changed. Records show that among the employees of Georgia Burleson Hall were several “Matrons” tasked with enforcing the rules of dining etiquette. These rules feel much more at home at a Victorian dinner party than the food court atmosphere of the 21st dining commons. Yet, another concern found in the Belew correspondence is finding positions for prospective students in what we would probably now call work-study jobs. So maybe we’re not so different from our Twenties counterparts after all.

Texas over Time: Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill, Waco

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph and postcard collections. To help bring some of those changes to life, we’ve created a “Texas over Time” series of GIFs that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, changing aerial views, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.

brazos gif

  • Alabama native J. T. Davis established the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill on January 29, 1910. The Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill purchased thousands of tons of cottonseed and then extracted oil for culinary and industrial purposes. After much success processing cottonseed, Davis acquired another location, the Valley Mills Cotton Oil Company, in 1924.
  • Before the Great Depression, Waco was a hub for growing and distributing cotton and its byproducts worldwide.
  • Even after a fire destroyed the hull house and the mixed feed plant in 1943, production remained steady, and construction of the two silos was completed by 1950.
  • After Central Texas flooding in 1957, the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company was unable to recover and had to sell the company to David C. Blintliff Interests of Houston.
  • Before Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines purchased the property in 2014, the plant was a storage facility for JPM Feeds and then remained vacant throughout the 1990s. It now is the site of Magnolia Market at the Silos, with some of the buildings featured in these photos re-purposed and revitalized.


Davison, Candace Braun. “Get A Sneak Peek at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ New Bakery.” Delish. Hearst Communications, Inc., 02 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.

Amanda Sawyer, “Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill,” Waco History, accessed May 26, 2016,

GIF and factoids by Haley Rodriguez, archives student assistant. See the still images in our Flickr set.

A Sweet (and Sparkly!) Canvas

By Amanda Norman, University Archivist

A few weeks ago, we found a most unusual specimen among the records of W.R. White, Baylor president from 1948-1961. Museum studies graduate student Valencia Johnson is processing this collection, and she was surprised to find a portrait of White—painted on a block of sugar!

Sugar portrait of Baylor President W.R. White, 1956
Imagine pulling this out of a box! This artifact is part of BU records: Office of the President, Chancellor and President Emeritus (W.R. White) #BU/142.

Fortunately, I immediately knew its context. Before coming to The Texas Collection, I was a writer in University Development and went to the home of Jerry and Mary Marcontell to interview them for Baylor’s planned giving newsletter. Jerry was a key member of the 1957 Sugar Bowl team, and hanging on a wall in their house was a portrait of him on a block of sugar—one was presented to each athlete.

And apparently, administrators got them, too! Since becoming University Archivist, I had remembered that sugar portrait and rather hoped that no one would bring one to us. Cultural heritage professionals prefer not to have food in the stacks, both because it can invite critters who are detrimental to the records and because, well, food isn’t meant to last that long and thus is hard to preserve. But, it turned out that we already had White’s portrait in the house, tucked away in an unassuming archival box for decades. (We hadn’t found it before because the collection was restricted till just recently. Now, maybe we should inspect other old accessions to see what other surprises lurk…)

Fortunately, whatever they did to that sugar to prepare it for painting, it must have also deterred ants, roaches, and other insects who love sugar. There are a few baby roaches who appear to have met their demise in what looks like a tape frame around the object. (I’ve taken a picture of this but am told it’s rather unappetizing, so we’ll spare you.) There otherwise is not too much evidence of nibblings. It has lasted this long—almost 60 years now—and quite frankly, is an amazing object, so we decided to investigate ways to preserve the portrait.

White-Sugar Portrait-Angle
From an angle, you can really appreciate the sparkly canvas. (And see the crack that has formed.)

At this point, in email consultation with some archivists and conservators, there seems to be consensus that the primary threat to this item is water and moisture. Fortunately, while maintaining humidity in our stacks, especially in the summer, is a constant struggle, it’s not nearly as humid here as in a coastal area, so that will help. We are investigating housing possibilities, likely a custom box with rigid support (to prevent future cracks) and desiccants (to prevent moisture build-up). And we’ll definitely keep a close eye on bug traps around it to make sure it’s not attracting anything! (Many thanks to Susan Russick, Karen Pavelka, Suzy Morgan, and other conservation/preservation specialists who have weighed in on our piece.)

We’d love to hear if any other archives, museums, or other repositories have a sugar portrait in their holdings and how you’re going about preserving it. From the research we’ve done, it sounds like the Sugar Bowl had these portraits created for at least 10 years, so there must be more out there! Also, the enclosure and support of the portrait has a stamp for Krauss Co. Ltd., which from some quick Googling tells us was a New Orleans department store—perhaps the sugar artist was housed there?

We can’t afford to take in additional sugar portraits—one is enough for research value and display, and we can’t afford all of the custom boxes and space it would take to preserve them. However, we’re delighted to have found this artifact—and with a few months to spare before the 60th anniversary of Baylor’s appearance in the Sugar Bowl!