Not an “Optick-al” Illusion: Rare Isaac Newton Text at VT

In 2007, Special Collections at Virginia Tech was graciously gifted a copy of Isaac Newtons Opticks or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.

Title Page
Title Page from Opticks, or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light by Sir Isaac Newton

 Opticks was Newton’s second major book on physical science and was first published in English in 1704, with a scholarly Latin translation following in 1706. The book analyzes the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behavior of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders.

 The publication of Opticks represented a major contribution to science, and was well received and hotly debated upon its release. Opticks is largely a record of experiments and the deductions made from them, covering a wide range of topics.  In the book Newton sets forth in full his experiments, first reported to the Royal Academy of London in 1672 on dispersion, or the separation of light into a spectrum of its component colors. He demonstrates how the appearance of color arises from selective absorption, reflection, or transmission of the various component parts of the incident light.

 The major significance of Newton’s work is that it overturned the dogma, attributed to Aristotle or Theophrastus and accepted by scholars in Newton’s time, that “pure” light (such as the light attributed to the Sun) is fundamentally white or colorless, and is altered into color by mixture with darkness caused by interactions with matter. Newton showed just the opposite was true: light is composed of different spectral hues, and all colors, including white, are formed by various mixtures of these hues.


 The copy belonging to Special Collections is a 3rd edition of the text, printed in 1721 in London for William and John Innys and was the last edition produced during Newtons lifetime. This nearly 300 year old leather bound book is in excellent condition, even the fold-out pages containing diagrams of Newtons experiments.

 The gift was designated by the donors in honor of Matthew Charles Ziegler, Class of 2003. Since it is not recommended that modern materials such as bookplates and their glue be attached to such extraordinary and rare books, this information is noted in the bibliographic record. What a great way to commemorate a Hokie!

A little R&R in the Summer time…

Edward Beyer's Sketch of the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs resort, as planned in 1853.
Edward Beyer’s Sketch of the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs resort, as planned in 1853.

Summer is here and that means it is time to think about vacationing! While most visitors to our region today tour historically significant sites and enjoy the many recreational activities available in the Blue Ridge Mountains, over a hundred years ago, the most popular attractions in the area were mineral spring resorts. These large and beautiful campuses advertised themselves as ideal for those desiring a change for the purpose of health, novelty, recreation, and to get rid of the wearing activities of business life.

The Yellow Sulphur Springs resort, located between Blacksburg and Christiansburg, commenced operation as a health spa in 1810. Similarly, the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs resort, in Ellett Valley, was incorporated by a group of local businessmen in 1855. Benefiting from the popular belief in the restorative powers of mineral waters, both resorts catered to a new leisure class seeking healthy and entertaining distractions. Offering such amenities as ballrooms, billiards, bowling alleys, gazebos, and sports fields, the resorts attracted visitors from throughout the United States and several foreign countries and it was not uncommon for guests to stay for a month or more. Easy access to the nearby Virginia-Tennessee Railroad ensured the initial success of the springs.

The Montgomery White, encompassing several acres of land, boasted a three-story hotel with more than 200 rooms and more than 30 cottages on the grounds. In 1862 the resort was designated a Confederate general hospital, charged with caring for sick and wounded soldiers. By the end of the summer, the hospital was at capacity, with more than 400 patients. While there is no complete list of those who died in the hospital, the nearby cemetery is said to hold 265 graves. Although it was one of the smaller spas in the area, Yellow Sulphur Springs could house as many as 400 guests in its hotel and adjacent cottages. The hotel became a favorite place for students at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanics College after the college’s founding in 1872. It temporarily closed from 1863 to 1868, but following the war and much renovation, both resorts again opened to the public and became popular summertime destinations.

By the 1890s, however, the spring resorts of the New River Valley were slowly declining in popularity due to the advent of the automobile and scientific skepticism of the value of spring baths. The economic panic of 1893, together with instances of fire and flood, may have accelerated the resorts downfall. The Montgomery White property was sold by auction and the remaining structures dismantled in 1904. The Yellow Springs property was also sold by auction in 1929, however the original hotel and several other buildings remain standing today, having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The buildings have been partially restored, and a guest house and healing arts studio now operate there.

TheYellow Sulphur Springs Hotel Account Book, which might more accurately be described as a guest register, includes the names of guests, their place of residence, the time of their arrival, and their room numbers. The register’s entries commence on August 26, 1887 and end on July 10, 1895.While the resort played host to guests from all areas of the United States, and a few from foreign countries, a number of guests were local residents. Each register page features advertisements for a variety of businesses in Lynchburg, Virginia. TheMontgomery White Sulphur Springs Resort Registerspans from June 30, 1886 to July 26, 1890 and includes the names of the resort’s guests, their place of residence and notes on their meals, rooms and porterage. Each alternate register page features an advertisement for either the Hexall Mills or the Southern Fertilizing Company, both of Richmond, Virginia.

For those interested in learning more about the leisure activities and the spring spas of the New River Valley, a good starting point would be to check outMontgomery White Sulphur Springs : a history of the resort, hospital, cemeteries, markers, and monumentby Dorothy H. Bodell (1993) andThe Springs of Virginia; Life, Love and Death at the Watersby Perceval Reniers (1941). Details about related materials, such as theball invitations, photographs, broadside advertisements, military travel passes, and other resources shown here can be found by searching theVirginia Heritage Database or by visiting us in Special Collections. We wish all of our readers safe and relaxing travels this summer!

Understanding the Art of Hearldry

A diagram identifying the components of a coat of arms.
A diagram identifying the components of a coat of arms.

Most fans of the popular Game of Thrones television show and book series can tell you the sigil of House Stark and the motto of the Lannister family, but did you know that your own family might have similar identifying emblems? Heraldry, which is the practice of designing, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges, does not exist solely in fantasy fiction, but actually dates back over 900 years and is still in use today.

Special Collections is home to the Temple Heraldry Collection which consists of more than 1200 bound volumes, has texts ranging from as early as 1572, all the way up until the modern era. The original gift of 700 pieces was donated to the University Libraries by Col. Harry D. Temple, who graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1934. While a majority of texts relate to British heraldry, the collection is constantly being expanded to include works on the heraldry of other nations, such as France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Spain. Also included are works on related topics of arms and armor, flags, uniforms, and military decorations. These materials are listed in the University Libraries’ online catalog system.

The origins of heraldry stretch back into ancient times. Warriors often decorated their shields with patterns and mythological motifs. Army units of the Roman Empire were identified by the distinctive markings on their shields. These were not heraldic in the medieval sense, as they were associated with military units, not individuals or families. Truly heraldic devices seem to have been first used in Europe during the reign of Charlemagne (768814 AD).

The emergence of heraldry as we know it today was linked to the need to distinguish participants quickly and easily in combat. Distinguishing devices were used on coats of arms, shields, and caparisoned horses, and it would have been natural for knights to use the same devices as those already used on their banners and seals. A formal system of rules developed into ever more complex forms of heraldry to ensure that each knight’s arms were unique (at least within the same jurisdiction).

The system of blazoning arms that is used in English-speaking countries today was developed by the officers of arms in the Middle Ages. This includes a stylized description of the escutcheon (shield), the crest, and, if present, supporters, mottoes, and other insignia. Understanding heraldic rules, most importantly the Rule of Ticture, is the key to the art of heraldry. In the Temple Collection are several encyclopedic texts that offer descriptions of family crests. By following the guidelines of heraldry, one would be able to create a visual representation from the written outline.

Does your familys moniker depict a dragon symbolizing that you are Valiant defender of treasure? Or perhaps a stag to show that you are One who will not fight unless provoked? It is orange to represent your familys ambition or blue, showing that you value truth and loyalty? Every aspect of a coat of arms is symbolic, from the coloring and patterns, to the shapes and layout.

Corps of Cadets Coat of Arms
VT University Seal
VT University Seal

Heraldry flourishes in the modern world; institutions, companies, and private persons continue using coats of arms as their pictorial identification. Members of the VT community will likely recognize the official coat of arms of the Corps of Cadets, shown here. Designed in 1965 by Col. Harry D. Temple when he was commanding officer of the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, the coat of arms was granted to the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets by the U.S. Army. The symbols are as follows:

  • Flaming grenade = preparation for war
  • Four gold stars = four major wars in which Tech cadets had fought before 1965 (Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and Korean War)
  • Laurel wreath = the presidential citation given to the cadet band for Spanish-American War service
  • Color red = strength and courage
  • Sword = command

Similarly, the University has an official seal containing a shield divided into four quadrants depicting the obverse side of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the surveyor’s level and leveling rod superimposed over a scroll, a partially husked standing ear of corn, and a chemical retort and graduate. Above the shield is the left side of the flaming lamp of learning with a right hand suspended above it. Created in 1896 and officially adopted by the board of visitors in 1963, the seal has remained unchanged (with the exception of the name of the institution and the alteration of the commonwealth portion) for more than 11 decades and reflects the agricultural/mechanical emphasis in the Virginia Tech curriculum during its first century.

Special Collections is open to researchers looking to better understand the symbolism of coats of arms connected with particular family names, churches, universities, fraternal orders and organizations, as well as those who simply wish to learn more about the governing rules of the art form and design a crest of personal meaning.

The Wonderful Witches of Oz

As they passed the rows of houses they saw through the open doors that men were sweeping and dusting and washing dishes, while the women sat around in groups, gossiping and laughing.

What has happened? the Scarecrow asked a sad-looking man with a bushy beard, who wore an apron and was wheeling a baby carriage along the sidewalk.

Why, weve have a revolution, your Majesty as you ought to know very well, replied the man; and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. Im glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City.

Hm! said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?

I really do not know, replied the man, with a deep sign. Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron.

-L. Frank Baum; The Marvelous Land of Oz

The patchwork girl of Oz  by L. Frank Baum; illustrated by John R. Neill (1913)
The patchwork girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum; illustrated by John R. Neill (1913)

The release of the blockbuster film Oz: The Great and Powerful earlier this month has sparked a renewed interest in the life and work of L. Frank Baum. Best known for his children’s masterpiece The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 screen adaptation starring Judy Garland, Baum authored more than a dozen different novels set in the magical Land of Oz, which took its name from the bottom drawer of the file cabinet in Baums office, labeled for files beginning with the letters O-Z.

Of course Baum was much more than just a juvenile fiction author. As we celebrate women’s history month, it should be noted that the cause of women’s suffrage was supported and advanced byprominentmale figures of the era. Baum, who publicly lobbied for women’s right to vote and served as the secretary ofhis town’s Woman’s Suffrage Club, was deeply affected by his beloved, spirited wife, Maud, and her mother, Matilda, an eminent feminist who collaborated with Susan B. Anthony andpublicized the idea that many “witches” were really freethinking women ahead of their time. In Oz, Baum offers a similarly corrective vision: When Dorothy first meets a witch, the Witch of the North, she says, “I thought all witches were wicked.” “Oh, no, that is a great mistake,” replies the Witch of the North. In sequels, Oz’s true ruler is discovered; it turns out to be a girl named Ozma, who spent her youth under a spell – one that turned her into a hapless boy.

Baum’s contact with suffragists of his day seems to have inspired much of his second Oz story,The Marvelous Land of Oz. In this story, GeneralJinjurleads the girls and women of Oz, armed with knitting needles, in a revolt; they succeed, and make the men do the household chores. Jinjur proves to be an incompetent ruler, and a female who advocates gender equality is ultimately placed on the throne. His Edith Van Dyne stories, including theAunt Jane’s Nieces,The Flying Girland its sequel, and his girl sleuth Josie O’Gorman fromThe Bluebird Books, depict girls and young women engaging in traditionally masculine activities.

The Wonderful Wizard of Ozand its sequels were obviously shaped by Baums wishful revisions of social conflict and are now almost universally acknowledged to be some of the earliest feminist childrens books in America, because of Dorothy and similar characters: girls who are enterprising, ingenious, adventurous, or imposingly self-reliant.

Located within Special Collections at Virginia Tech are several Baum titles that can be found by searching the University’s online catalog, Addison. Among the results are two first editions: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913) and The Enchanted Island of Yew (1903). You are invited to visit us and examine these texts to discover more about the inspiring heroines of Oz.

Love, Life & Work: Advice and Art for the Ages

Title Pages from Love, Life & Work by Elbert Hubbard (East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1906.)
Title Pages from Love, Life & Work by Elbert Hubbard (East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1906.)

At the turn of the 20th century, America was in the throes of a remarkable transformation. The great agrarian society was quickly becoming a mechanically driven economy. Some, however, spoke out against the advances of industrialization, arguing that mass production subjugated workers to machines and that no machine could match the quality of craftsmanship that came from an artists hand. It was this reaction that gave rise to the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 May 7, 1915) was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher. Raised in Illinois, he met early success as a traveling salesman with a soap company but dropped out of this lucrative career to become a writer and soon discovered the idealized world of Arts and Crafts. Hubbard is most famous for founding the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York, an influential exponent of Arts and Crafts in the United States.

During his lifetime, Hubbard became well known throughout the nation as a writer, a philosopher and a lecturer. His eccentric and flamboyant style and seemingly non-conformist ideology endeared him to many readers. He was both a reflection of and a reaction to his times, taking center stage in American thought and becoming an icon of popular culture. Hubbard described himself as an anarchist and a socialist. He believed in social, economic, domestic, political, mental and spiritual freedom and his philosophies are clearly evident in his publication: Love, Life & Work; Being a Book of Opinions Reasonably Good-Natvred Concerning How to Attain the Highest Happiness for Ones Self with the Least Possible Harm to Others, a copy of which is held in Special Collections.

Although the text of this novella is readily available in ebook format, there is something special about examining the physical work. Virginia Tech is home to a first edition, published in 1906, bound in soft leather with the title embossed on the cover and representative of the simplified illustration style and handcrafted appearance that characterized the era.

Bookmaking played an important role in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Like other decorative arts, there was a rising concern over the detrimental effects of mass production on book design. Hubbard and his fellow Roycrofters sought to rectify this through their own private press, which emphasized high quality hand production: handmade papers, heavy inking, original typefaces, and designs that looked back to medieval illuminated manuscripts and incunabula and often included elaborate wood engravings.

The text itself is a compilation of thirty short essays on a variety of topics ranging from Mental Attitude to Love and Faith and although Hubbard makes many references to contemporary issues and personalities, a vast majority of his advice is still relevant in modern times. The following are just a few of the bits of wisdom and insight that Hubbard shares with readers:

Character is the result of two things, mental attitude, and the way we spend our time. It is what we think and what we do that make us what we are.

The world bestows its big prizes, both in money and honors, for but one thing. And that is Initiative. What is Initiative? Ill tell you: It is doing the right thing without being told.

To do your work well to-day, is the certain preparation for something better to-morrow. The past has gone from us forever; the future we cannot reach; the present alone is ours. Each day’s work is a preparation for the next day’s duties. Live in the present–the Day is here, the time is Now.

Members of the Virginia Tech community are invited to come visit us at Special Collections to examine Love, Life & Work, other influential texts by Elbert Hubbard, and additional examples of Arts and Crafts style printing and illustration.