Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Golden Picture Frame

The chairman of the humanities department stopped by my desk in the library and asked for help with a picture that he bought at a garage sale for $5.

The gold frame contained a page with four pictures that looked medieval. Because the picture was under glass we could not determine the material.[fn 1] It could have been velum or paper. It was hand drawn, without brush marks. The professor told me that when he bought it he didn’t notice the hand written Hebrew lettering.

The pictures in French gothic style lacked depth and perspective. The people seem to be dressed in medieval clothes. Only the bottom left panel made any sense. It seemed to be fish in a red body of water.

The first part of the search was to look for books on medieval Jewish art. I checked the catalog and found three books. I was able to confirm that the period was medieval. I read up on Jewish art in the Middle Ages. The bottom left picture reminded me of the ten plagues. After several searches that didn’t work, I constructed a Google image search with the words Jewish art medieval ten plagues. After examining 100s’ of hits I found some pictures that looked similar in a book known as the “Golden Haggadah.” I found the full book of 86 leaves was digitized by the British library (identified as: Add. MS 27210)
( I examined the pages until I found the match. This is a page from an illuminated manuscript created in approximately 1320 near Barcelona, Spain. The binding was done in Italy in the 17th century. Since the British Library owned the complete copy, the professor’s copy must be a facsimile.[fn 2] The smudged letters in the picture and in the British Library copy are exactly the same.

Next I searched for a facsimile edition using WorldCat. There were 15 hits for a 1970 facsimile edition. Most of the records were not helpful. Below is the best record. It lists the libraries of Spertus Institute, Hebrew Union College and Columbia University as owners of copies.
סדר הגדה של פסח :‏ ‏עם שירים מיוחדים על כל הנפלאות והניסים, שנעשו ביציאתם ממצרים בני חורין
Seder Hagadah shel Pesaḥ : ‘im shirim meyuḥadim ‘al kol ha-nifla’ot ṿeha-nisim she-na’asu be-yetsi’atam mi-Mitsrayim bene ḥorin.
Author: ‏Bezalel Narkiss; British Museum.; Zaehnsdorf (Firm)
Publisher: [London : Eugrammia Press, 1970] [fn 3]

The edition was limited to 520 copies of which 20 unnumbered copies are not for sale.

I then searched for some sort of value for this edition. I found one copy for sale at $2700. WorldCat had another edition of this book published in 1997. I searched on Amazon and found used and new copies for sale, costing $1.75 to $999.00. I went to Northwestern University Library and found the 1997 edition. It contained the reproductions of the pages, but it was mostly commentary by Bezalel Narkiss. He described each panel in the picture and give the Biblical text that was the basis for the picture.

Upper right -- Pharaoh commanded the task masters to not give straw to make bricks. Ex. 5:6-13
Upper left -- They built for Pharaoh the store-cities of Pithom and Raamses. Ex. 1:11;
Bottom right – Aaron, your brothers hall speak to Pharaoh. Ex. 7:2
Bottom Left – The words are unreadable, The is based on the verse: The Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink, because they couldn’t drink from the river. Ex. 7:24.

These pictures are interesting from a costume point of view. The artist gave the people contemporary (i.e. 14th century) costume, not costume from the Biblical era. Pharaohs did not have beards did not have crowns as pictured. The illustrations found in museums of Egyptian pharaohs have false beards and nothing on their heads like a crown.

While this search took a lot of specialized knowledge of books and searching, I was lucky. If the British Library had not posted a digitized version, I would have never been able to figure out the source or meaning of the pictures.

1. When I was discussing this search with some fellow librarians, one said opening up a frame is a "no,no," One should not take apart an object to determine it's worth. She said that she learned this from the TV show, Antiques Road Show.

2. On Nov. 25, 2011 I received an e-mail from Dr. Barry Dov Walfish, Judaica and Theology Specialist of the University of Toronto Library, who suggested that the picture in the frame may be from an art calendar produced in the 1990's or 1980's. This is possible. However,the facsimile edition is 26 centimeters and so is the picture. If this was from a calender, I would expect the dimensions would not be the same are the original. I examined many art calendars and found none of the pictures match the original size of the objects. The facsimile was printed on specially manufactured paper made by Tullis Russell and Co Ltd. If I were to open the frame and examine the paper, I would immediately know if this was a framed picture from a calendar or the 1970 facsimile. As mentioned above, since opening the frame would diminish the value I will not be able to examine the paper by holding it. I ordered a copy of the 1995 reprint edition for my collection.

3. I was not able to find out anything about Eugrammia Press. Searches of the Web and business databases did not yield any information except for a directory listing stating that the company no longer exists.


March10, 2013

I attended a lecture this morning given by Mark Epstein, Professor of Religion at Vassar College on the topic of the medieval Haggadah.  Most of his remarks concerned the Golden Haggadah.  He described the pictures and showed us that many if not most of the pictures had women displayed proximately in the frame.  One of the pictures depicts Miriam beaming the drum during the Song of Miriam.  This is the cover illustration of the 1997 edition that I bought.   Since I don’t have much interest or knowledge in art history or analysis I never paid attention to the women in the pictures.

Professor Epstein said that the name of the person(s) who commissioned this manuscript is not known.  It is also not known if the artist was illustrating women based on contemporary events or if the pictures are based on a hopeful or fantasy view of women.   While he could describe the pictures the name of the original owner and the story of how and why these pictures were created remains a mystery.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Improving Student Services -- New President Interview -- Part 9 *

Q> In the November 2001 issue of Campus Technology, Michelle Fredette [fn 1] writes about customer service improvements that would help the technically literate student have a better customer service oriented experience. I am talking about the interactions the students have outside of the classroom such as registration, housekeeping, and transportation. What is the college doing to improve these services?
A> Students when registering are customers; in the classroom they are not. Let me address my remarks strictly to the non-classroom experience. In today’s information rich and connected society customers expect to know the store’s inventory. The College has an obligation to supply students with the information they need to enhance their student experience. That information is our inventory.

1. Transportation is always a challenge. The campus is served by three bus routes. One connects to the rapid transit system. Students can get downtown in about 45 minutes via public transportation. The College participates in the regional program that offers a student transit pass for use the entire semester. For $200 the student can ride without further payment. Our College makes the purchase process easy at registration time.

For students driving to campus, we have adequate parking. We collect no parking fees and there is no problem with enforcement. Last summer the parking lots were sealed, remarked, and routine maintenance was performed. The only problem times are in the late morning when the highest number of students are on campus.

2. Textbooks are a big expense. I read an article about American Public University’s policy of not charging for textbooks. [fn 2] Their professors are writing e-books for class use. This policy is controversial as stated in Paul Fain’s article from Inside Higher Ed.[fn 3] We recognize that for some of our students the textbook costs more than they pay in tuition. Some universities rent textbooks to students. Eastern Illinois University has been renting textbooks for students since 1899. Their system required IT work to modify scripts to match inventory and student’s needs. Since student may choose to purchase books, inventory needs to be sufficient for everyone taking the class. See for their policy. They collect a set fee each semester for textbooks. Once the student knows what course s/he is taking they go to the textbook building to select their books. The books have an RFID (radio frequency identification tag) to enable a modified library circulation system to check out and track every book. At the end of the semester they return the books. The list of textbooks needed by each student is prepared by matching their schedules from Banner. Students spend an average of 10 minutes from the time they enter the textbook building to the time they leave with their books.

There are several challenges with textbook rental programs. The textbook publishers frequently include CDs or web based materials that can only be used for one semester. Publishers create frequent new editions that both update the text and discourage the used book market. I have set up a task force to investigate whether we can set up a rental program. The challenges include logistical, technological, and intellectual property. The task force includes people from the building and physical plant, IT staff, library faculty, and faculty from several disciplines. They will need to investigate student needs and wants as well as the faculty needs. With a rental program faculty will have less freedom to choose texts for their classes.

3. ID cards are not obtained by all of our students. For some strange reason many skip the final step in their registration. Since students don’t need IDs to enter the buildings or most campus events they just don’t get one. This causes problems for the security of our campus because we don’t know who is authorized to be here. The ID is also their library card. This is not a new concept. Colleges have been issuing IDs that are used for library cards for more than 80 years. The librarians at the College report that students think their state issued ID is their “regular ID.”
Q> Are there any changes in the housekeeping activities at the College?
A> Housekeeping staff was complaining that food left in the library and classrooms were problems with odors and vermin. We are now limiting food to approved areas.
Q> Thank you very much.

*Part nine of an imaginary interview with the recently appointed president of the College. Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.


1. “7 ways to streamline student services,” by Michelle Fredette in Campus Technology, Nov. 2011 p. 33-40. (On line version:

2. See for their undergraduate book grant policy.

3. “E-Book, In-House,” November 7, 2011 Inside Higher Ed,