We love our books, but sometimes things can go wrong. A sad reality about books is that they have limited strength. Spines crack, hinges weaken, leather and paper deteriorate. Here in the Library, we collect for use by our researchers. And each time a book is opened, it breaks down a little more. When we opened a box last year and found a bevy of distressed tomes, we knew we had to act.

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Can you believe how spineless some books are?

With the help of our members, we raised the funds to take the first set of broken books to the book doctor. I had a chance to visit Nancy Delaney of Delaney Book Restorations and look in on the progress of the restoration work.

The workshop. Nancy has restored antiquarian books by hand for years.
The workshop. Nancy has restored antiquarian books by hand for years.

 

The Lady's Equestrian Guide. This book is getting a complete re-binding, as the old cloth binding fell off entirely.
The Lady’s Equestrian Guide. This book is getting a complete re-binding, as the old cloth binding fell off entirely.

 

Our adopted books are currently being re-stitched, providing strength and stability before new covers are added.
Our adopted books are currently being re-stitched, providing strength and stability before new covers are added.

 

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Even the spineless can find redemption with a little help! A cloth liner is being added to restore the hinges before a new leather spine is added.

 

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It’s not enough to add new leather. The strengthening extends into the boards to extend the life of the book.

 

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“The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell,” a fore-edge book, is getting new leather today.

 

First, the replacement leather is cut.
First, the replacement leather is cut.

 

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And then it’s fitted to the book. Before the leather is attached, it will go through skiving to thin and trim the thickness of the leather.

 

The skiving process is necessary with leather to hide everything beneath the outer layer: leather show everything, and we don’t want the new spine to have bumps, creases or ripples.

We’re thrilled with the restoration work, and look forward to getting images of the fully restored volumes. And keep an eye out for our next round of book adoption opportunities this November!


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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While leafing through a copy of the June 3, 1905 edition of The Thoroughbred Record, I happened across a piece under the heading “Local Turf News,” that detailed the visit of John Porter to their editorial offices in Lexington, Kentucky.

Surely this didn’t mean the famous trainer of racehorses, John Porter (1838-1922), who trained horses for the likes of the Duke of Westminster and King George V? The first sentence describes the man who visited:

John Porter, jockey; 4 feet 1 inch in height; weight 98 1/2 pounds, was a caller at The Thoroughbred Record office on Thursday afternoon. There is nothing unusual about Porter’s being a jockey. His height and weight would indicate as much, but when one becomes aware that he is just about seventy-five years old — Porter says he is not quite sure as to his correct age, but “that’s how old white folks tells me I am” is the way he puts it — it dawns upon one that he must indeed be the oldest of all American jockeys now living.

It’s obvious this isn’t the British John Porter, but a man with no less remarkable experience with horses. Upon reading the small piece, I found myself drawn to the mysterious story of the unheralded African American jockey who was still riding at age 75.

The first thing to note is that it’s extremely difficult to find anything about John Porter. He is confirmed as an African American jockey residing in Lexington in the Directory of African Americans in Lexington, KY, 1893 by D. Y. Wilkinson. If he was indeed 75 in 1905, he would have been born in 1830. The article in The Thoroughbred Record says that

Porter was born at the Col. Innis place on the Maysville pike and has been a resident of Lexington all his life, and was exceedingly proud of his owners and trainers badge which gained him admittance to the recent spring meeting, which was by no means his first, and, it is hoped, will not be the last…

It’s likely that Porter was born a slave as were many jockeys of the period. The antebellum racing scene was run largely on the labors of talented African American trainers and jockeys. Porter worked with horses from an early age, exercising horses for John Cameron at the Kentucky Association Course.

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Kentucky Association Racetrack, 1920, by Kraemer Art Company Postcard Proofs – Kentucky Historical Association. Via Wikipedia.

His first mount for a race was on a half-sister of Lexington named Maid of Orleans. It did not go well, at least not immediately. From The Thoroughbred Record:

[S]he jumped the fence, spilling Porter, who claims she ran away clean to the Dicks River cliffs before she was caught. She was eventually found and brought back, and gave Porter his first winning ride on the next day of the meeting.

Success brought opportunity and Porter landed at the stables of Dr. Elisha Warfield, who bred Lexington, then known as Darley. The complexities of the ownership and running of Lexington are their own story, but when ownership shifted and Darley was re-named Lexington, the jockey who rode the newly-christened horse to victory at the 1853 Phoenix Hotel Stakes was John Porter.

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Lexington, c. 1870, Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874) charcoal on paper, 26 x 18 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Ms. Elizabeth J. D. Jeffords, 2008.

In fact, it appears that Porter was the preferred jockey for Lexington again for his most famous match against Le Compte, but Porter, according to The Thoroughbred Record, was “with” a Mr. Viley who refused to allow Porter to travel to Louisiana to ride.

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Lexington in Stable, James Mullen – Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views of Kentucky, 1875. Via Wikipedia.

A facial infection caused Lexington to go blind, forcing his retirement in 1855, but was a leading sire 16 times before his death in 1875. Porter, however, went on to success as a jockey, and trainer.

I found another article in The Thoroughbred Record about John Porter, this time from September 7, 1918:

An unique figure at the Kentucky Association track is an exercising boy named Porter, grandson of the famous jockey, John Porter, who rode at Lexington in many races, including the Phoenix Hotel Stakes, and who had the mount on Ten Broek in the St. Ledger at Louisville when the noted record-holder finished second to King Alfonso in that classic.

Another John Porter, a grandson carrying forward the family tradition of working with horses. When giving tours at our Library, I often point out that the threads of history are extremely delicate. Although John Porter was considered famous in Kentucky horse circles in 1918, he is today very difficult to find in the pages of history.

The contributions of African American jockeys were so often unacknowledged in historical accounts, but they made huge contributions to their sport. Although the record-keeping is imperfect, we’re fortunate to have at least some resources that let us trace the events. Without them, I never would have heard about our John Porter, the man who once rode to victory aboard one of the greatest race horses in American history.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Finding blog post topics is a challenge. I was leafing through an 1888 copy of The New York Sportsman when a headline caught my eye. It documented an embarrassing (and dangerous) episode that occurred in Chicago on Monday, July 16 of that year. The article was reprinted from a Chicago Tribune report, politely entitled “A Panic-Stricken Race-Crowd.” The original article was far less flattering, terming the event a “Ludicrous Panic at the West Side Driving Park.”

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Garfield Race Track, 1890. From Chicagology.

I was born in Chicago, and grew up knowing almost nothing of the city’s horseracing history. The Chicago Driving Park was founded in 1863 and operated continuously under many different owners into the early 20th Century. The track eventually became known as Garfield Race Track, on a portion of today’s Garfield Park in the western part of Chicago.

The track was a trotting track, a hugely popular form of racing for urban communities in the 19th Century. Thousands of attendees would attend (and gamble) on the races, with the massive crowds often packed shoulder-to-shoulder. It created a situation that could easily devolve. Our Tribune reporter paints a scene that’s both humorous and exasperated:

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“All sorts of cries were raised. Some one yelled ‘Dynamite!’ Another cried, ‘Mad Dog!’ Another, ‘The stand’s falling!’ Another, ‘A runaway horse!’ Another, ‘Anarchists!'”

The reporter tells that his notepad and paper were knocked from his hands in the stampede as racegoers crowded to climb the fences and escape the threat of doom. Never forgetting his role, our reporter immediately began interviewing people in the bedlam:

“Every one was asking what the trouble was and no one knew. ‘I had to run,’ explained one, ‘or I would have been knocked down and trampled on. I didn’t know what I was running for, but when I got going I made great time.'”

Racegoers, policemen, and even the bookmakers joined the estimated 12,000 stampeders. The bookmakers kept their priorities in the confusion:

“When the scare came they grabbed their cash-boxes and departed, and the way the clerks got out over the sides of their inclosures would have made a cat envious. Four of them even forgot to take their money drawers with them. But everything was found intact when they returned.”

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Chicago Trotting Park (West Side Driving Park), Picturesque Chicago, by Chicago Engraving Company, 1882 From Chicagology.

But what was the mysterious cause of the stampede? The answer was nothing nearly as fearsome as an anarchist’s bomb:

“[A]s a matter of fact, not one man in a hundred knew what the trouble was until it was all over. The trouble was that the flooring under the gambling shed cracked. That made the noise and started the stampede.Some one heard it, and raised the cry that the stand was falling. In such a crowd it required little to make a scare. The stand was in no more danger of falling than it has been for years.”

Racegoers were lucky that there were no fatalities from the mad dash for the exits. The main result was a sheepish crowd returning to the track and a snarky report in local and national papers the following day.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Several months ago, I saw a fascinating column by John Kelly in The Washington Post that looked at an outbreak of equine influenza in 1872. The column looks at the impact on Washington, DC and Richmond of “The Great Epizootic,” a massive outbreak that impacted Canada and most of the United States between October and December of that year. Since my desk is less than 30 feet from the NSLM’s collection of 19th Century newspapers, I decided to see if any of our materials could help tell the story.

Two resources were most prominent in our collection on the topic: The Turf, Field and Farm and The Spirit of the Times. Both were weekly newspapers printed in New York City, but enjoyed a national audience that submitted small columns or letters spread throughout the paper.

“The disease appears to be a form of influenza, and is classed by veterinary authorities under three heads, viz., the catarrhal, rheumatic and the gastro-erysipelatous forms. The disease, which has made such havoc in the stables of Buffalo, Niagara and [Rochester], is of a catarrhal character, its first noticeable symptoms being a flow of tears from the eyes, a watery discharge from the nose, and general languor, followed by a cough.”

“The Horse Epidemic,” The Turf, Field and Farm, October 25, 1872

The papers assert that the disease first broke out in Canada and trailed south quickly, infecting stables across the United States in a matter of days.

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Illustration from Every Man His Own Horse Doctor by George Armitage, 1877. The main symptom of “The Great Epizootic” was lethargy and weakness.

Almost overnight, “The Great Epizootic” became a national crisis. Although most food sources during the era were far more local than today, many other aspects of the economy ground to a halt without a means of transportation. The horse was still the main powerhouse for plowing and carting in rural communities, and by the 1870s, urban travel had quickly become dependent on the horse to pull rail cars and trolleys in the cities.

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Horse-drawn rail car of the Toronto Street Railway Company, High Park line, at King and Queen Streets, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, circa 1889. Toronto Public Library, via Wikimedia Commons.

Even worse, the epidemic was a critical factor in the Great Boston Fire, which broke out on November 9 and destroyed over 750 buildings in twelve hours. The Boston Fire Department’s horses were unable to pull tanks and engines when the fire broke out, forcing the department to respond to the fire with volunteers pushing equipment on foot.

“The fire departments of London and New York have put out thousands of fires every bit as threatening in the commencement, and in as crowded neighborhoods, as the one at Boston. But at the latter place the sickness of the horses induced the fire companies to draw their own engines, heavy engines, to the fire. Before they reached it and got to work it was beyond their control.”

“The Horse Epidemic: The Boston Fire,” The Spirit of the Times, November 16, 1872.

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Aftermath of the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Public Works Department photograph collection, Collection 5000.009, City of Boston Archives, Boston, via Wikimedia Commons.

The challenges of contemporary American veterinary science were on full display during the crisis as conflicting theories of medicine and contagion resulted in recommendations from sources reliable or otherwise. The editors of The Turf, Field and Farm took a commonsense approach to their advice, endorsing the course of action that history would bear out as correct: give the patient rest, keep her comfortable, and feed her well.

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An ad for Taylor’s Great Compound in the November 16, 1872 issue of The Spirit of the Times. Businesses that lost money for each day a horse was ill were willing to pay well for those who claimed to have “the cure.”

The mortality rate of “The Great Epizootic” is estimated at no higher than 10 percent, but it likely could have been lower were it not for the great economic pressures to resist giving adequate rest. It appears that most casualties were very old, or had been overworked. The reality is sad in retrospect, but we might excuse some of it due to just how important the horse was to everyday life in the 19th Century.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

In a world dominated by word processors and digital publication, the treasures of the past can be uncovered in handwritten materials. The NSLM collections have many handwritten manuscripts in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. We do our best to ensure these materials get some regular appreciation, so here is a list of five great handwritten pieces in the NSLM collection.

5. Robert Burns, The Bonie Moorhen

This poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796) was never published during the poet’s lifetime. The poem details the difficulty of tracking the “moorhen” (grouse), but in reality it’s a romantic ode to Nancy McLehose, who exchanged letters with Burns in the 1780s. McLehose was married, but estranged from her husband, and she urged Burns not to publish a poem that would surely cause social scandal for everybody involved.

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The Bonie Moorhen, Robert Burns, 1788. National Sporting Library & Museum, John H. Daniels Collection, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

4. R. S. Surtees, Account Book

One of the most prolific and classic sporting authors, R. S. Surtees (1805-1864) helped pioneer the sporting novel while creating comedic characters that have stood the test of time. This pocket-sized cash book was printed in 1853 and belonged to Surtees. It details both his daily expenditures and serves as a brief diary outlining weather or activities of the day.

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Account Book, R. S. Surtees, 1853. National Sporting Library & Museum, John H. Daniels Collection, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

 

3. Samuel Howitt, Presentation Inscription

Samuel Howitt (1756-1822) was a prolific engraver of animals and sporting subjects during his lifetime. Financially independent as a young man, he devoted his time to riding and field sports before financial difficulties forced him into trade as an artist. His time on horseback served him well — much of his work draws upon his country experiences to depict shooting and equestrian scenes. The two volumes of etchings in the NSLM collection were presentation copies, and include a brief dedication by Howitt to the recipient, William Edkins.

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Presentation Inscription, Samuel Howitt, 1811. National Sporting Library & Museum, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

 

2. George Osbaldeston, Trotting Letter

“Squire” George Osbaldeston (1786-1866) was the prototype of the early sporting gentleman: rash, dashing, and eminently capable in the saddle and with a gun. Osbaldeston wagered thousands of pounds on his abilities, winning huge bets through his ability to ride for speed or endurance. Unfortunately, much of this money went to outrageous gambling debts that eventually forced him to sell his lands and die penniless. This letter is directed to Osbaldeston’s friend, Harry England, asking his opinion about two trotting matches to be races against time. The races would cover 31 miles in two hours, the other could cover 30 miles in two hours.

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Trotting Letter, George Osbaldeston, 1831. National Sporting Library & Museum, John H. Daniels Collection, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

 

1. Theodore Roosevelt, Riding to Hounds on Long Island

Anybody who has been on our Library tour at NSLM has seen this piece. We’re very happy that John Daniels donated it to NSLM in 1999. The manuscript is an editorial piece for the Century Illustrated Magazine, and Roosevelt (1858-1919) wrote about the culture of foxhunting, and how Americans practice it. It’s the only manuscript in our collection from a U. S. President. The manuscript includes corrections and is signed on the final page.

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Riding to Hounds on Long Island, Theodore Roosevelt, 1886. National Sporting Library & Museum, John H. Daniels Collection, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

It was difficult to pick just five, so we’ll have to highlight more in the coming weeks! Our blog is beginning a new Tuesday posting schedule for 2017. You can subscribe to the blog by clicking on the “Follow” button on our sidebar. We hope you’ll come back to read more about our collections (handwritten or printed) this year!


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

When looking to identify a book as one’s own, the discerning bibliophile will opt for a book plate. Book plates range from lighthearted and fanciful to historic and dignified.

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Book plate including family arms of the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale.

Here at NSLM, we have thousands of books with the plates of collectors past. Many enshrine the book owner’s love of turf and field sports.

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Book Plate of Harry Worcester Smith.

Book plates have been considered collectible items since the 1950s, with whole organizations devoted to the collecting of plates. We recently came across a collection of draft book plate designs by Robert Ball. Ball’s completed book plates are gorgeous, contemplative pieces, and many of the rough drafts in the book are sketched out on wax paper.

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Finalized book plate in memory of Frederick Sprague Barbour for The Norfolk Library.

 

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A copper plate of a draft book plate for Jerome Marks Rich. Mr. Rich rejected this design and the plate was sold in 1970.
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Positive draft book plate for Jerome Marks Rich.
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Robert Ball drafted a book plate for Henry Ford. This pencil sketch is on wax-lined tissue paper.
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A draft book plate for the NSLM? We were surprised to stumble across this piece. To our knowledge, the plate was never completed and NSLM has no books with the plate.

More to come as we see if we can research the history of the NSLM book plate by Robert Ball. It would be wonderful if we could identify a completed version!

Thank you to all our readers for a great 2016! Staff will be out of office next week for holidays, and we’ll update the blog again on our new Tuesday schedule beginning January 3.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Occasionally, the connections of the sporting world are documented in “ephemera,” the fancy archival word for “paper-based miscellany.” This week, while finishing up our reprocessing of foxhunting books, we happened across a copy of Letters from an Old Sportsman to a Young One by A. Henry Higginson.

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“Gun Metal, A. Henry Higginson up. December 1, 1913.” National Sporting Library & Museum, A. Henry Higginson Scrapbook Collection (MC0012), Middlesex Hounds Photographs, 1909-1914.

Higginson was an influential foxhunting gentleman in his day, serving as president of MFHA from 1915 to 1930. He also wrote several books on foxhunting. In 1934 he took up residence in England, where he spent the rest of his life.

Our copy of Letters from an Old Sportsman was owned by Lester Karow.

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Copy owned by Lester Karow, 1929.

Lester Karow was one of the four founders of the National Sporting Library & Museum. Originally from Savanah, Georgia, he spent much of his time in Virginia.

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“Lester Karow, undated photograph.” Photograph courtesy of Charles Mackall, Karow’s nephew.

Pasted into the front endpapers is a clipping of Karow’s comments on the book from a 1942 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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Higginson, on seeing this, took the time to write a letter of thanks to Karow. The letter is also pasted onto the endpapers of the book.

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It’s fitting: a letter from an old sportsman to a young one. And we can read it today because Karow donated it to our Library in 1957, shortly before Higginson died in 1958.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail