SMU’s Believe It Or Not!

The bizarre. The strange. THE UNUSUAL.

About the exhibit: June 25 – September 10, 2012
Fondren Library Center Lobby

All right here from the SMU Libraries. Spanning multiple collections (including the Carter Taylor Collection, Heritage Hall Collection, Mary McCord/Edyth Renshaw Collection on the Performing Arts, and the U.S. West: Photographs, Manuscripts, and Imprints Collection) these items are among the many oddities held by the various libraries here on campus.

Mark Twain Game

twain01Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder. A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates. Folio game board with 2 sheets, 13 1/16 x 8 5/8″, each pasted over black cloth to one side of a box-like wooden frame. Hartford:, February, 1891.

WITH: Facts for Mark Twain’s Memory Builder. [cover-title]. 12mo, pp. 11, [1], self wrapper. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1891.

WITH: Box 5 1/8 x 1 11/16 x 7/16″, with printed label on lid, designed for storing the common pins used in playing the game, the pins still here. Fine copy of an unused example of one of Twain’s commercial failures. Those copies used by the public show irreversible pinholes, not present here. The pamphlet is “Not a literary production but a collection of twain02names, dates, etc., designed to accompany Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder,…”BAL 3432. The long explanation of “The Game” pasted on one side is dated Hartford, January, 1891, and was written by Twain. “On August 18, 1885, Mark Twain patented his Memory-Builder, a game board aimed at developing memory for dates and facts…The game and instructions…were written by Twain…Several models were test marketed in 1891 but failed to capture the public’s fancy, possibly because Twin’s instructions were too complicated. According to one critic, “The game looked like a cross between an income tax form and a table of logarithms.”- www.twainquotes.com. Twain wrote his friend William Dean Howells “If you haven’t ever tried to invent an indoor historical game, don’t.” Despite its shortcomings as a game, it still seems to generate enthusiasm to this day, witness Hillary Busis, Bored? Check Out Mark Twain’s Trivia Game, in Slate, April 22, 2010, and Mark Twain and the Art of Memory, by Thomas M. Walsh and Thomas D. Zlatic, in American Literature (Duke University Press), vol. 53, #2, May 1981. Unused copies, i.e. copies not mutilated by pin holes, are uncommon.

Builder’s Plate: Engines of Change

buildersThe Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the most successful builder of locomotives in the world. Sales of Baldwin steam locomotives in the United States and in foreign markets indicate the economic prowess of the company and the quality of the product.

The company was founded by Matthias W. Baldwin, a jeweler who opened a machine shop. After he built a steam engine for his shop sometime before 1830, Baldwin was commissioned by a Philadelphia museum to build a miniature locomotive to demonstrate the new steam locomotive technology first developed in England. The success of the model in 1831 brought Baldwin his first order for a full-sized locomotive from the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad Company, which was completed in 1832. From this modest start, the Baldwin Locomotive Works increased steadily into an economic powerhouse. Baldwin lasted for over 100 years, building the last of its approximately 70,500 locomotives in 1956.

Displayed here is a builder’s plate for Baldwin locomotive 35789, part of DeGolyer Library’s Baldwin Locomotive Collection, which consists of thousands of blueprints, specification books, photographs, and other documents. Built in 1910 for the Mexican International Railroad, Baldwin 35789 had a 2-6-6-2 wheel arrangement, that is, 2 leading wheels, followed by 6 coupled driving wheels, a second set of 6 coupled driving wheels, and 2 trailing wheels. The Mexican International was an American subsidiary of the Southern Pacific; by the time the locomotive was placed in service, the Mexican International was taken over by the Mexican government.

DeGolyer Library, Mu1995.46.2

Deck of Cards: Deal me in


Travel by passenger train in the great age of steam, especially in the wide-open spaces of the American West, was a leisurely affair. Railroads stressed service, providing dining cars, lounge cars, observation cars, and roomettes for transcontinental trips. Chicago to Los Angeles would take 3 days or more (depending on how leisurely one wanted to be), allowing plenty of time to play cards along the route of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. Fred Harvey offered a chain of hotels and restaurants (“Harvey Houses”) associated with the Santa Fe and provided passengers with a complimentary deck of cards, illustrated with tourist scenes and romantic images of Native Americans.


Souvenir Playing Cards of the Great Southwest. Kansas City, Mo.: Fred Harvey, 1911.

DeGolyer Library, Ephemera Collection

Barbed Wire: Don’t Fence Me In

barbedSmall01According to the historian Walter Prescott Webb, three inventions were pivotal in the settlement of the American West: the six-shooter revolver, the windmill, and barbed wire. Barbed wire made it economically possible to build fences on the open spaces of the western prairies and plains, where wood posts and rails (traditionally used for fencing east of the Mississippi) were in short supply. As farmers enclosed their lands to protect their crops and properties in the late 19th century, cattle raisers saw the disappearance of the open range and the end of the great cattle drives, from South Texas to railheads in Kansas or grazing areas in Wyoming or Montana.

Barbed wire (or “bob wahr”), while associated with the West, was an Eastern invention. The Washburn & Moen Wire Company in Worcester, Massachusetts, was the leading manufacturer of wire products, not only in America but in the world. In addition to their Worcester factories, they operated a mill in Chicago, Illinois, which supplied much of the demand for barbed wire in the Western states.

As one can tell from the wires displayed on this panel, one of many such held at the DeGolyer, barbed wire came in various styles and gauges. According to popular lore, a wire fence should be “Horse high, bull strong, and hog tight.”

DeGolyer Library, Carter Taylor Collection, Gift of Carter Taylor, 1973

Pencils: Before the Internet, there were pencils!

pencilsPencils of one kind or another were in use by the Greeks and Romans. The graphite pencil sandwiched between two pieces of wood dates back to the 16th century. For writing, marking, and figuring (arithmetic was done by hand before the calculator), pencils were necessary pieces of equipment for everyone from school children to accountants. By 1870, Joseph Dixon of Springfield, Massachusetts, was the largest pencil manufacturer in the world. For more fascinating reading about this indispensable invention, see Henry Petroski’s The Pencil (1992).

The origins of the “advertising pencil” are unknown. DeGolyer Library, however, recently acquired by gift several dozen advertising pencils, with names and slogans of Dallas and Texas businesses painted on the sides. Some round, some hexagonal, these colorful relics of 20th-century marketing campaigns—never sharpened—bear witness to their age.

Try a pencil the next time your computer’s battery is out of power. One size fits all!

DeGolyer Library, Advertising Pencil Collection, Gift of Toni Wirth, 2012.

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