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Special Collections lifts the curtain to reveal rare gems

By Emma Kahn

Section: Arts

October 16, 2015

The Brandeis Archives and Special Collections department recently acquired materials belonging to dime novel author Ernest A. Young, donated by Victor Berch, Brandeis’ first Special Collections librarian, and Elliot P. King.

Berch and King did extensive research to locate the large conglomeration of works, a hunt featured in a 1988 volume of “The Dime Novel Roundup.” The new collection of papers involving Young’s work contains manuscripts, typescripts and business and personal correspondences that date from 1871 to 1936.

Young was a much-sought-after novelist who spun together entertaining and relatable plots for his readers. While dime novels initially contained Western stories and frontier tales, the genre later branched out to include other topics such as detective stories, for which Young became renowned.

“Though not a great deal about Ernest Young’s personal life is known, this collection offers insight into his personality,” wrote Hansol Lee ’18, Archives and Special Collections assistant in a blogpost. “His comical side is plainly evident in the birthday verses he wrote, and his serious side is clear in his correspondence about the deaths of his family members. On a humorous note, like many dime novel authors, Young held a variety of pseudonyms, ranging from Wesley Henshaw to a more feminine Ernestine Youtz.” Many of the works acquired by the Archives and Special Collections library relate incredibly vivid tales about the past.

Despite the antiquity of many of the materials collected, the Special Collections department maintains a strong sense of vivacity. Certain items are especially prominent depending on current trends, specific courses offered or even popular research topics.

“Right now, there is a lot of interest in our Louis Brandeis collection because of the upcoming anniversary of his nomination to the Supreme Court. Our current exhibit is on our World War I poster collection, so there’s also a lot of interest in that material,” said Anne Woodrum, Special Collections librarian in an interview with the Brandeis Special Collections Spotlight blog. “Students, staff and faculty at Brandeis are some of our primary users, but we also have researchers coming from all over to use our collections. This past summer we had researchers from Texas and Belgium visiting to use our collections, for example.”

Brandeis’ Special Collections owns a particularly vast number of resources pertaining to dime novels thanks to the interest of Edward Levy, a lifelong collector of dime novels and also the first president of the Brandeis Bibliophiles, a group of rare book enthusiasts formed to acquire rare materials for the Goldfarb library.

“We have 168 linear feet of dime novel material dating from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries. The five major publishing giants of dime novels are well represented within the collection, along with material from some of the lesser-known publishing firms. Altogether Brandeis holds over 1,000 titles, so it’s a significant resource for anyone interested in researching popular literature from this time period,” Woodrum said.

Not only does the new collection of Ernest Young papers contain his novels, but dispersed within the works are also correspondences with many individuals, including his publishers. The correspondence with various individuals in Young’s life serves useful for understanding both his artistic life and the pragmatics of the publishing industry in the era and the business of dime-novel writing.

There is truly no better way to describe the Special Collections department than the “gem of the library.” While much of undergraduate research today is conducted through online resources, a visit to the second floor of the library is highly recommended; the department’s collection provides a unique window into the past, one that may be incredibly useful when looking for exceptional primary resources. The collection contains a large assortment of incunabula: books printed prior to the 16th century on subjects such as history, literature, philosophy and Judaica; first and limited editions; and fine press publications.

The department also offers numerous services ranging from classroom instruction on primary source research methods, to the display of physical and electronic exhibitions, to lectures and outreach programs. The Archives and Special Collections department is certainly an undervalued asset to the Brandeis community.

The Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections, located in the Goldfarb Library, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, many exhibits and collections can be accessed online.

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