Finding the Nelson Brothers' Archive of Miniature Books
By Pamela Russell, Head of Education and Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College
On a Thursday evening in early 2013 at a small, southern New Hampshire auction house, I stumbled across a flimsy, old shoebox filled with tiny, carefully constructed, handwritten books, among the dozens of old dishes, tools, and knick-knacks arrayed for sale preview. For me, it was love at first sight. My husband and I occasionally attend these local, low-key auctions for sport and entertainment. Sometimes we bid on nothing; sometimes we are successful in our modest bids for intriguing curios. This night I had arrived late, just before the auction was to begin, having arranged to meet my husband there after work.
Time was so short I only had a chance to glance at the topmost two or three wee books, and I had no real idea what they were. But I wanted them, if only to be able to spend more time with them. The auction began, and by chance, the little books were offered within the first 15 minutes. They were casually described by the auctioneer as a box of children’s doodles. I wasn’t the only one who wanted them, however, and bidding continued for a few minutes. I persevered with some trepidation and, happily, came out with the winning bid.
That night at home I stayed up very late to look at them one by one – I counted more than 60 little volumes. A few bore the names of Arthur and Elmer Nelson, and soon, with internet help, I traced them to Goshen, New Hampshire in the 1890s. I spent more time reading them over the next few days and soon discovered that Prof. Karen Sánchez-Eppler was a leading scholar in the field of children’s bookmaking. In the spirit of serendipity that has surrounded this undertaking, I knew her, since I also worked at Amherst College. I was eager to bring them to her attention, which I soon did -- and you are now exploring the marvelous result!