An Old Book: Stories Within Stories

One of the old books in my collection is a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare edited by George Long Duyckinck and published by Porter & Coates in Philadelphia. No year of publication is mentioned in the book, but an internet search indicates it was published in 1872. This old book contains many stories and not all of them were written by Shakespeare.

The front cover.

The stories in this book not written by Shakespeare require some imagination. The first is found scrawled on a blank page in the front of the book. It seems this book was a gift to Anna M. W. Pennypacker in 1894. An inscription reads: “Oh sweet Maria, empress of my love!”

A personal note from more than 100 years ago.

Armed with these clues I decided to figure out as much of the story as I could. Here is what I have discovered. Anna M. W. Pennypacker was the daughter of Samuel W. Pennypacker, the 23rd Governor of Pennsylvania (from 1903-1907). Governor Pennypacker lived at the Pennypacker Mansion in Schwenksville, PA (located just down the road from my childhood home). The M in Anna’s middle initials stands for Maria, her name is a tribute to her grandmother. Anna graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1897.

The “empress of my love” inscription is a quote from Shakespeare’s Loves Labour’s Lost Act 4, Scene 3. Longaville writes a poem for Lady Maria, which contains the line: “O sweet Maria, empress of my love!” If the inscription was written as a statement of endearment, I wonder how the penman fared with Anna? In the play it sort of works for Longaville, though as the curtains fall he needs to spend a year and a day separated from Maria to prove his devotion to her. I suspect Longaville had the patience to follow through, the happy ending just had a little delay.

But was the book a gift to Anna from a college lover? Did she purchase the book for herself and simply jot down one of her favorite lines? I was not able to determine if Anna was ever married or involved in any relationships.

Inside the book, serving as a bookmark, was another story. A receipt from John Wanamaker of Philadelphia from February 8, 1911. Five items were purchased, totaling 37 cents.

The receipt from Wanamaker’s.

I’m curious about this transaction that occurred more than 100 years ago. Was there a reason this receipt was saved? What were the items purchased? What did Wananmaker’s look like in 1911?

Tucked in Act III of The Gentlemen of Verona sits another story. I thought it was a small piece of plastic at first. Then I held it up to the light and noticed it is a very old photo negative. As someone who likes history and old stuff, this was a very exciting discovery. I attached the negative to glass, supplied light from the back, and photographed it.

A photograph of the negative.

In PhotoShop I adjusted some levels to get a clearer picture.

Another version of the picture.

Yet another version.

It seems to be an old street scene from a city. I do not know where or when the picture was taken. Saying it makes me curious is an understatement. The sign on the left side is tantalizingly close to revealing some information–but try as I might I could not read the text with my best powers of photo manipulation.

What do you say?

Yes, this old collection of Shakespeare’s writing is an interesting book. So many stories. History, even that which might erroneously be called mundane, is very cool.


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