Recently I spent some time working with a bestiary compiled in 1607 by Edward Topsell.  The short version of its title is The Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts, the the full title does an admirable job of summarizing the contents:  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes : Describing the true and lively figure of every beast, with a discourse of their severall names, conditions, kindes, vertues (both naturall and medicinall), countries of their breed, their love and hate to mankinde, and the wonderfull worke of God in their creation, preservation, and destruction : necessary for all divines and students, because the story of every beast is amplified with narrations out of scriptures, fathers, phylosophers, physitians, and poets : wherein are declared divers hyerogliphicks, emblems, epigrams, and other good histories, collected out of all the volumes of Conradus Gesner, and all other writers to this present day.

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The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes by Edward Topsell (1607).  The gift of Thomas E. Marston

Edward Topsell was an English cleric who authored several books.  Today he is best remembered for his zoological works.  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes was published in 1607, and he followed it up with The History of Serpents in 1608.  In 1658 the two works were published as a single volume, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents.  

Topsell was an archival researcher.  He didn’t venture out into the field and make first hand observations.  Rather, he mined historic accounts for information and compiled the results.  The list of authors consulted is several pages long.  He relied heavily on Conrad Gessner’s, Historiae Animalium (1551-1558), but we also see Aristotle and Pliny among his sources.  The result of all this research is a large collection of entries on a wide variety of animals.  Each entry includes a description of the animal and its behavior, where in the world it can be found, and how it relates to man.  Frequently these entries are accompanied by illustrations.

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Horse (p. 282-435)

Many of the animals covered would have been well known to Europeans.  In general, these entries contain reasonably accurate  images and data.  Some, such as that for the horse, are quite extensive, and indeed these sections about horses and other equines, hounds, and big game animals, such as various deer, are the reason this book is in the NSLM collection.

Occasionally his descriptions or the accompanying images seem a bit… off.  For example the abilities attributed to the squirrel strike me as a tad inflated.  He reports that the squirrel’s tail is used by the animal as a sunshade and umbrella, and that it also functions as a wing, noting the tremendous jumps it makes between trees without sinking, or from great height to the ground without injury.  Ok, I can perhaps understand that, but then the entry goes on to say… “The admirable witte of this beast appeareth in her swimming or passing over the waters… to pass over a river, shee seeketh out some rinde or smal barke of a tree which she setteth upon the water,  and then goeth into it, and holding uppe her taile like a saile, letteth the winde drive her to the other side…” (p. 658).  I’m certainly no expert on squirrel behavior but this seems highly unlikely to me.  And then there’s the accompanying illustration.  This is the fiercest squirrel I’ve ever seen!

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Squirrell (p. 657)

The hedgehog appears as expected in its portrait, however its fighting abilities are described in a surprisingly offensive light.

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Hedg-Hog (p. 277)

“The hedghog rowleth upon the serpent piercing his skin and flesh, (yea many times tearing the flesh from the bones) whereby he scapeth alive and killeth his adversary, carrying the flesh upon his speares, like an honorable banner won from his adversary in the field” (p. 279).

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Cat (p. 103)

His description of the cat rings true.  “Once cattes were all wilde but afterward they retyred to houses wherefore there are plenty of them in all countries…  It is needelesse to spend any time about her loving nature to man, how she flattereth by rubbing her skinne against ones legges, how she whurleth with her voyce, having as many tunes as turnes, for she hath one voice to beg and to complain, another to testifie her delight & pleasure, another among hir own kind by flattring, by hissing, by puffing, by spitting, insomuch as some have thought that they have a peculiar intelligible language among themselves” (p. 105).  However, Topsell also recounts the legends that cats steal ones breath at night, and that they are often the familiars of witches.

Nearly all of the entries include recipes utilizing parts of the animal to create cures for a wide variety of diseases.  Everything from headaches and psoriasis, to epilepsy and the bloody flux might be vanquished.

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Asse (p. 20)

For example the ass can help us with tooth trouble and baldness.  “The poulder of an asses hoofe burned and beaten, laide in vineger and made in little bals, and one of them put into the mouth and there held, helpeth the loosnesse and paine in the teeth.  There is a collection of certaine hard matter about an asses legges, called Lichen, which if it be burned and beaten and put into old oyle, will cause haires to grow out of baldnes, and it is of such force, that if is be applyed to a womans cheek, it will produce the same effect…”(p. 27).

In addition to real animals, Topsell includes a number of mythic animals and monsters.  He tries to give us the same sort of information on these as he does for the other animals but largely ends up recounting physical descriptions, legends, and rumors about these beasts, their behavior, and methods of dispatching them.

Judging by the number of authors contributing to the unicorn entry, these magical equines were widespread at one time.  One thing they all agree on is that the unicorn may be subdued by a virgin.  Beyond that information differs.  Their horns can be used in a wide variety of medicinal tonics, and if one is made into a cup, it can either detect, or neutralize poison depending on the account one believes.

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Unicorne (p. 711)

The Mantichora is supposedly a variety of hyena.  “This beast or rather monster (as Ctesias writeth) is bred among the Indians, having a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatnesse, roughnesse, and feete are like a lyons, his face and eares like unto a mans, his eies gray and collour red, his taile like the taile of a scorpion of the earth, armed with a sting, casting forth sharp pointed quils, his voice like the voice of a small trumpet or pipe, being in course as swift as a hart; his wildnes such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man” (p. 442).

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Mantichora (p. 441)

“His body like the body of a lyon, being very apt both to leape and to run, so as no distance or space doth hinder him, and I take it to be the same beast which Auicen calleth Marion, and Maricomorion, with her taile she woundeth her hunters whether they come before her or behind her, and presently when the quils are cast forth, new ones grow up in their roome, wherewithal she overcommeth all the hunters: and although India be full of divers ravening beastes, yet none of them are stiled with the title of Andropophagi, that is to say, Men-eaters, except only this mantichora” (p. 442).

In the new world there resides a beast known as Su.  “There is a region in the new-found world, called Gigantes, and the inhabitants thereof are called Pantagones; now because their country is cold, being far in the south, they cloath themselves with the skins of a beast called in theyr owne toong Su… The true image therof as it was taken by Theuetus, I have heere inserted, for it is of a very deformed shape, and monstrous presence, a great ravener and an untamable wilde beast” (p. 660).

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Wilde Beast (p. 660)

“When the hunters that desire her skinne set upon her, she flyeth very swift, carrying her yong ones upon her back, and covering them with her broad taile:  Now forsomuch as no dogge or man dareth to approach neere unto her, (because such is the wrath therof, that in the pursuit she killeth all that commeth neare hir:) the hunters digge severall pittes or great holes in the earth, which they cover with boughes sticks, and earth, so weakly that if the beast chance at any time to come upon it, she and her young ones fall down into the pit and are taken.  This cruell, untamable, impatient, violent, ravening, and bloody beast, perceiving that her natural strength cannot deliver her from the wit and policy of men her hunters, (for being inclosed, shee can never get out againe), the hunters being at hande to watch her downfall, and worke her overthrow, first of all to save her young ones from taking & taming, she destroyeth them all with her owne teeth; for there was never any of them taken alive, and when she seeth the hunters come about her, she roareth, cryeth, howleth, brayeith, and uttereth such a fearfull noysome, and terrible clamor, that the men which watch to kill her, are not thereby a little amazed, but at last being animated, because there can be no resistance, they approch, and with their darts and spears wound her to death, and then take off her skin, and leave the carcasse in the earth.  And this is all that I finde recorded of this most savage beast” (p. 660).

If you’d like to check out Topsell’s information on your favorite animal or to take a look at some of the other monster entries just contact me and let me know.  I would be happy to get the book out of the rare book room for you.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

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“By means of a good telescope, a very distinct view may be obtained of the moon,” reads one of many short pieces that made up the 1882 edition of The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack. The Almanack had been in print for decades by 1882, tracing back into the 1850s as a dispensary of moral admonition and humorous stories. “With the highest power, however, yet employed, no trace of any inhabitants has been discovered,” the article continued. “Though any large towns must have been seen, did such exist on [the moon’s] visible side.”

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J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Despite the inevitable disappointment that the lack of habitations on the moon must have caused readers, almanacs were a staple of American popular literature in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Almanacs have been produced for centuries, dating back into the Middle Ages, with working theories on the earliest almanacs connecting them to Babylonian astronomers. Modern almanacs are known for conjecture on the weather, and for extensive handy reference charts. In the information age, the almanac is no longer a primary reference text, but the genre has continued on as a traditional publication. Poor Richard’s Almanack, produced by Benjamin Franklin, is a legendary title in the genre, and today’s most popular iteration is the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been faithfully produced since 1792.

The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack was decorated by engravings that were recycled every year. The engravings depicted farm life throughout the year:

In the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room we have several copies of minor almanacs (including The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack from the 1850s to the mid-1880s and Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina from the 1860s) that give detailed insight into daily life for the era. The heart of the annual almanac was the provision of ready details and charts for the year. Generally, these charts covered the weather, important dates, phases of the moon and tides, or lists of government representatives. The other articles maintained the interest of the reader, and were usually humorous stories or practical advice:

A Fast Frigate.
Dave Constable says there is one advantage about old-fashioned frigates. They drag so much dead water behind, that if a man falls overboard on Monday, you need not stop till Friday, to pick him up again.

The Hagerston Town and Country Almanack, 1856

The Library’s copies of Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina offer a very different tone. These copies were printed during the Civil War, and list facts and information on the government and daily life in the Confederacy, such as postage rates:

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Rates of Postage, Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina, 1864.

The 1864 edition contains no humorous articles and reflects in its offerings the somber trials in war-torn Virginia. Articles include instructions for how to prevent flies from wounds, how to make three dishes from a single beet plant, advice for crafting makeshift lamps from common animal grease, and directions for making shoes from squirrel skins tacked to plain boards. By the 1875 edition, Richardson’s Almanac had reintroduced humorous stories to begin the publication, and the recipes that hinted at the war’s impact had disappeared from from the publication.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head 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

Gamekeepers are employed by land owners to ensure there is enough game or fish for the owner’s sport. People in this occupation use an intense knowledge of the land and of wildlife to create habitats best suited to the game they hope to cultivate.

The Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell (Wikimedia Commons)

Activities include, building coverts, planting food sources, breeding birds, and eliminating predators.  Although the focus of such efforts is game and game birds, other wildlife in the area often benefits was well.

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Training setters.  Victorian and Edwardian Field Sports from Old Photographs, by J.N.P. Watson (1978). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Mrs. Jacqueline B. Mars.

Gamekeepers also organize the hunts. Not only do they guide hunters and stalkers to the best spots and provide game law information, they are also involved with the tools of the hunt. They rear and train hunting dogs, flush game, and collect and document the bag of the hunt.

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Keepers bring in some of the bag.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is an old profession, probably it’s been around ever since individual people owned large swaths of land.  In Medieval times gamekeepers were royal appointments and tended to focus mostly on protecting deer and wild boar as these were favorite royal game animals. Traditionally gamekeeping is a male occupation, however in his book, The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, Jonathan Garnier Ruffer describes the exploits of at least one early female gamekeeper.

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Female gamekeeper.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In the 1820s Polly Fishbourne was the gamekeeper at Holkham estate. She had a reputation for ferocity and so was fortunate to find herself in a profession that offered a ready target for her aggression – she was the bane of the local poachers. Women also make appearances as gamekeepers during World War I, often filling in for their husbands.

The Library’s resources on gamekeeping are focused on Great Britain from the very late 18th century through the 20th century.  Some books are essentially gamekeeping text books such as, The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910). This book gives a detailed description of the keeper’s daily activities over the course of the year.

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The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910).

Other books give a more general overview of the lifestyle and tasks of the gamekeeper.  For example, The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879) not only talks about the gamekeeper’s techniques and work, but also describes his living conditions, and the likely occupations of his wife.

For me, the most interesting books by far are the autobiographies written by the gamekeepers themselves. These colorful accounts of how the authors came to be gamekeepers and of the adventures they had during their careers are quite entertaining.

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Gamekeeper, John Wilkins.  The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

A good example is this excerpt from The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892), in which he describes tricking a known poacher into stealing a clutch of rotten eggs, and the encounter that follows…

“”Good morning, John,” says Harry, as soon as he sees me.  “Good morning, Harry,” says I, politely. “I was just remarking,” says Harry, “What a pity it is to cut down such nice, young oak timber, just growing into money.” Whereat his two companions burst out laughing, thinking, no doubt, how nicely he was smoothing me over. “You seem amused, my dear,” he went on, pleasantly, addressing the maid, who had a nest full of eggs in her hands. “She is so fond of bird’s eggs, John.”  This to me, of course. They all laughed again at this, and I, nothing loth, joined in. When I thought that they had laughed enough, at my expense, I stepped up to Harry, who was still on the grin, and said: — “Yes, and so are you fond of bird’s eggs, aren’t you?”  In a moment his countenance changed, and the grin grew ghastly, as he angrily asked what I meant. “I mean,” said I, “That pocketful of pheasant’s eggs you took from that clump of briars up yonder.” And before he knew what I was up to, I struck his pockets with the flat of my hand, and smash went the rotten egg!

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The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

At this he began cursing and swearing, but I merely remarked: — “Good morning, Harry.” Then, turning to the other two, I observed :– “you won’t be so fast to laugh at John Wilkins another time, perhaps.” Thereupon I left them, I indulging in a little mirth on my own account, but you should have seen the change that came over their countenances!”  (Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, p. 112-113)

Interestingly, in addition to the books on gamekeeping, the Library has quite a few about poachers and poaching.

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A selection of books about poachers and poaching.

They tend to fall into categories similar to those on gamekeeping. Topics include the various tools and techniques of the poacher, specific guides for capturing various types of animals, general woodcraft advice, and techniques for avoiding gamekeepers and the law. The personal accounts of poachers are even more colorful than those of the their opponents, the gamekeepers.

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The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879, this edition 1973) National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The fascinating thing about the tales of ‘gamekeeper vs. poacher’ is how they’re told with a sense of nostalgia by gamekeepers and poachers alike. Despite the injuries sustained on both sides in these conflicts, and the often stiff penalties incurred by the poachers, including fines, prison, and transportation, the participants describe these events with pride.

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The Poacher’s Companion by E. G. Walsh (1982). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The stories I read were all by retired old men. Perhaps, the distance of time smooths off the rough bits and they are just reliving the glories of youth. They put me in mind of the old Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons.

Gamekeeping continues today. While the job has evolved over time, many techniques remain the same. Today there are formal training programs at colleges, and professional  gamekeeping organizations. To see what is involved check out The Scottish Gamekeepers or National Gamekeepers.

To learn more about gamekeepers, poachers, wildlife conservation, shooting, and hunting, come see me in the Main Reading Room and I’ll be happy to get you started.


 

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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

Last month, we cracked open an ambitious project in the Library: the complete reprocessing and recataloging of everything stored in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. The project will likely last a year and is very challenging as we will be fully describing every object in our rare book collections, many of them in archaic languages.

Rare Book Room 1
Like our Main Reading Room, many objects in the Rare Book Room are not cataloged, and most need to be stored to make more efficient use of space.
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As each collection is cataloged and reprocessed, acid-free index cards with barcodes and call numbers are inserted. Everything will now be findable in the NSLM’s library catalog, and to researchers using the OCLC’s WorldCat system.
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We started with the most challenging materials, building a dedicated section for “folio” items: those which are too large to be shelved with the regular “oversized” books.
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Shelving was cleared and removed for repairs and re-anchoring of wall units. It was a great opportunity for our facilities staff to perform stabilization and repairs.

 

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With repairs and maintenance complete, the entire room was painted for an updated look.

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We’ll be updating our members as we continue work on this exciting project. We’re already cataloging quite a few treasures from our rare collections that will now be easier to find and access.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head 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

Now that we’ve completed reorganizing and re-cataloging the books in the Main Reading Room, I’ve begun work on the books housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

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The F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room in the lower level of the Library.

This room has a controlled climate that protects our delicate, rare, or unique items, including books, manuscripts, and ephemera.  Finding beautiful or interesting items within this collection is common but I thought I’d share a pair of items that really caught my eye recently.

The Library has many items housed in clamshell boxes.  Often these protective cases are used to save fragile antiquarian books from further damage and soiling, however, some books are issued in clamshells by their publishers.  These tend to be deluxe editions, usually with elaborate bindings and featuring signatures from the author and or artist.  One such volume is Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

This rather subdued green case does indeed contain a deluxe volume, one of only 50 produced.  The lid of this case hides a surprise.  Mounted inside are 18 hand tied fishing flies in pristine condition.  It was quite the surprise to pull open the lid and find these delicate works of art.

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the flies.  They were all tied by Jack Gartside.

In addition to the book, and the flies, there is a folio containing unbound plates of all the black and white illustrations that appear in the book.  Each signed by the artist, Alan James Robinson.

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Illustration by Alan James Robinson, in Trout & Bass (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The six watercolor images from the book are also included as unbound plates.  Each is individually cased and is signed by the artist, Alan James Robinson.

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Cutthroat Trout by Alan James Robinson, in Trout & Bass (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The whole collection makes a very nice deluxe edition and housed safely in its clamshell case, and in the controlled climate of the Rare Book Room, it will continue to amaze visitors for many decades to come.

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The second item of interest turned up in a container marked simply “ephemera.”  Among its contents we found a large wooden box with a colorful illustration on its lid.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Sliding the lid off we discovered the box contained a puzzle.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

A cube puzzle to be precise.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

This sort of puzzle features a different image on each side of its cube shaped pieces, so there are six puzzles in one box.  Very efficient!  The six in one feature isn’t the only advantage cube puzzles have over traditional jigsaw puzzles, their cubical pieces are also much harder to lose than the small flat pieces that make up a jigsaw.

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An individual cube from the puzzle.  Three of the six images/sides are visible.  Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

In addition to the image on the lid of the box, there are five posters showing the other five images that can be assembled from the cubes.  One is of fox hunting, two of wing shooting, and two of stag hunting.  All are by John Sanderson-Wells. 

The simple appearance of the cube puzzle is deceptive.  The user has to first figure out which of the six sides on each piece belongs to the design they are working on, and only after that can one determine where the piece belongs in the overall image.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Both these items are behind the locked door in the Rare Book Room but that doesn’t mean you can’t see them.  You just need to contact us prior to your visit for an appointment.  You can also schedule a tour of the Rare Book Room during which you will see an assortment of the interesting and unique items housed there.  To make an appointment or to book a tour, contact us at info@nationalsporting.org


 

SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

I recently ran across the book Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes in the Library’s collection.  It’s a small book that pairs colorful illustrations with whimsical collective nouns for groups of various sorts of fish.

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A Hover of Trout.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.
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A Cluster of Porcupine Fish.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.

Many collective nouns, such as flock of birds, school of fish, class of students, or pack of hounds, are authorized or accepted terms in English.  However, there is a seemingly limitless variety of group nouns being created by everyday English language speakers.  The generation of these terms is a word game that allows speakers to customize their language on the fly, displaying their cleverness and imagination.  Collective terms tend to focus on a characteristic or behavior of the thing being named.

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A Paddling of Ducks.  Image by R. G. Daniel.

For example, a paddling of ducks, or a murmuration of starlings.  A quick google search for collective nouns provides many examples of this dynamic language generation.

The writer of this blog details how attendees at a mathematics conference came up with group nouns for mathematicians.  My favorite was “A distribution of probabilists.”

Here is a list of group nouns for Pokemon.

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A Mischief of Pikachus.  Image from Zam.com

The website All-sorts.org leverages the power of Twitter to collect group nouns.  They recently held a contest in which participants submitted images illustrating their favorite collective noun.  Here is “An Orchard of Macs” by Chris Dobson…

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An Orchard of Macs.  Illustration by Chris Dobson.

and “A Tangle of Octupuses” by Rachel Wilson.

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A Tangle of Octopuses.  Illustration by Rachel Wilson

Even Downton Abbey gets in on the fun in season four.  While watching several men who are contending for Lady Mary’s attention depart, Rose asks, “What’s a group noun for suitors?”  Cora replies, “What do you think? A desire?”  Rosamund responds, “A desire of suitors. Very good.”

While we are all familiar with these fun terms, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the tradition of generating clever or whimsical group nouns goes back at least to the late 1400’s.  The Boke of St. Albans (1486) is a manual on hunting, hawking, and heraldry for the education of gentlemen.  This education includes the correct terms for groups of animals.  Knowing the jargon is a critical indication of membership in any group and aristocrats are no exception.  The list, Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, provides the appropriate terminology for discussing groups of animals in a hunting setting.

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The Boke of St. Albans (1881) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Interestingly it also includes quite a few humorous terms for groups of people and professions.  Demonstrating that people at that time enjoyed clever or especially apt terms just as we do today.  And perhaps suggesting to gentleman that displaying their wit and humor by creating such a term is acceptable behavior.

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The Gentleman’s Recreation by Nicholas Cox (1674) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Later books of courtesy reprinted many of these terms and expanded on them.  The Gentleman’s Recreation (1674) and The Complete Sportsman (1775) are two other examples that the Library holds in addition to later editions of The Boke of St. Albans.

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The Complete Sportsman by Thomas Fairfax (1775) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In his article, Proper Terms: An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of Phrases in “The Book of St Albans,” 1486, entitled “The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys” and similar lists, for The Philological Society in 1914, John Hodgkin collects lists of these collective nouns found in early manuscripts and books and analyzes their generation and historical development.  The collection of lists is worth a look, not least for the ease of reading them compared to reading the historical fonts found in the original books.  Hodgkin argues that many of these words were never used in actual conversation and that some of them were not even meant as collective nouns at all.  He goes on to give the likely origins of each of these terms, many of which are confusing to modern readers, but reveal the same sense of humor and whimsy as our modern-made terms once they are explained.

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Tapster. Image from OpenClipArt.org

For example the collective term for tapsters or wine drawers is listed as, “A Promise of Tapsters.”  “Refers to the usual habit of tapsters or wine drawers, who say that they “are coming now, sir” when they have every intention of attending to about a dozen other thirsty souls first” (p. 163).

What are some of your favorite collective nouns?  Let me know in the comments section.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

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Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
Determine
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington
Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

Secretariat
You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!