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Curio Roundup

A selection of the more unusual objects and artifacts featured online from Library holdings.


June 10, 2014—The Harvard Library’s treasures are as diverse as they are valuable. This year, the Harvard Gazette featured some unique items in library collections in its Curio series.

The series traced noteworthy signatures, gathered  famous writers’ preferred tools, cast a spotlight on tiny stage sets in the Theatre Collection, untangled Walter Gropius’s bow ties, visited the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Room and traced the evolution of Harvard’s diplomas


green bow tie

Bow ties that belonged to modernist architect Walter Gropius are brightly colored and made from cotton.

Gropius began teaching at Harvard in 1937; the ties are in a collection at the Graduate School of Design’s Frances Loeb Library.

portrait of Harry Widener

The spirit of Harry Elkins Widener lives on in the library erected in his honor.

a shelf of Harry's books

Books, manuscripts and drawings from Harry Elkins Widener’s personal collection are carefully preserved at the center of the 320,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts building.

an early diploma

Before the era of printed diplomas, any graduate who needed a document attesting to a Harvard degree (usually for travel overseas) hired a local calligrapher to pen a personalized parchment. 

HUA's earliest Harvard diploma

Early Harvard diplomas come in all shapes and sizes. This diploma for George Alcock, AB 1673, is the earliest known example in the Harvard University Archives. It is dated April 19, 1676.

a seal used by Charles Dickens

An electric and emotional way to connect with long-dead great writers (besides reading their works) is to see, touch or just be near artifacts from their writing lives. Here, a seal used by Charles Dickens, held by Houghton Library.

Many such objects at Houghton arrived with more conventional literary materials, like books and letters, but were accepted despite having no direct utility for a literary scholar. A graphite pencil owned by e e cummings is embossed “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”

Pete Seeger signature with banjo

“It’s not like we have a collection of signatures,” said Harvard University Archives archivist Barbara Meloni. “You will find them everywhere.” Folk musician Pete Seeger embellished a letter with a banjo in 1976.

mini stage set for "Scream"

Among the riches of the Harvard Theatre Collection are a model stage sets. Some look fresh, some are fragile. Here, a miniature stage set for “Scream,” 1978, at the Alley Theatre, Houston.

model set for The Promised Land

The mockups are made of paper, metal, plastic and wood. From a stage set titled “The Promised Land,” designed by Kenneth Dresser. Venue and date unknown.