Monday, August 27, 2012

Lucy the Elephant Enjoys Seaside Views Year-Round

Nicole Joniec in front of Lucy the Elephant
 If you’ve ever taken a trip to the New Jersey Shore, chances are you’ve encountered more than one peculiar roadside attraction.  If you happen to be heading north from Ocean City towards the Atlantic City Expressway, as I recently was, you may just cross paths with Lucy the Elephant.

U.S. Patent for Lucy the Elephant, patented Dec. 5, 1882.  Image courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, Jr., Lucy the Elephant was initially intended to serve as a lure to attract potential homebuyers to the barren coastal landscape just south of Atlantic City, then referred to as South Atlantic City.  In her later years, her varied uses included a summer rental, a private residence and even a tavern.  In the latter 20th century, she was transformed into the museum she is today, complete with memorabilia from her varied past.

My visit with Lucy inspired me to see what we may have in our collection related to her.  Thanks to recent funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities to catalog and digitize a selection of our ephemera collections, I was able to locate the lithograph below, an illustration in a miniature 5” long souvenir booklet for Atlantic City, dated ca. 1886.   Portraying a desolate beach, the image shows Lucy standing in a barren landscape with visitors admiring her presence. 

Elephant Pavilion, South Atlantic City (New York: Adolph Wittemann, c. 1866).
Named the “Elephant Pavilion” in the print, it is believed Lucy received her name at a later point from former owner Sophia Gertzen.  The Gertzen family turned Lucy into a popular tourist attraction that lasted through World War II.

As coastal areas in New Jersey became valuable real estate (with the assistance of her awe-inducing presence, of course) development soon encroached upon Lucy.  When a planned condominium complex threatened her existence in 1970, the Save Lucy Committee was formed to raise funds to move her to her current location, set back slightly from the ocean further protecting her from the water.

It is interesting to find her within a souvenir booklet for Atlantic City, showing that the creator hoped she would be appealing to the holiday-makers drawn to the promise of a relaxing getaway at the shore.  Even today, Lucy draws visitors from around the world as well as us local folk who escape to the shore for the same reasons our ancestors did in earlier times.

For more information on Lucy the Elephant, including a colorful history, visit  I encourage all to take a quick detour during a trip to the shore to admire the last Victorian-era zoomorphic structure believed to be standing today.

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Medallions on 19th-Century Bindings

Front covers of Leavitt & Allen gift books with papier-mâché medallions, 1852-1853.

I have written previously about book bindings with papier-mâché elements.  (click here to read that post.) Now, I’d like to present a particularly interesting group of books that have papier-mâché medallions attached to the leather covers.  These bindings were all published by Leavitt & Allen in the mid-1850s.  During this time, Leavitt & Allen offered thirteen inexpensive duodecimo gift book titles in the following binding styles: “morocco full gilt, $1.50; morocco antique, maché centres, $1.75; papier-mâché, elegant, each book in a case $2.50.”

Back covers of Leavitt & Allen gift books with papier-mâché medallions.
Presumably, the bookbinder purchased the “maché centres” and attached them to the front and back covers of full-leather case bindings.  All of these books have the same pattern embossed into the leather with a sunken circle in the center to accommodate the thickness of the papier-mâché medallion. The pattern was made by heating a large brass embossing plate and pressing it into the leather of the covers. This embossing plate would have been expensive to produce and thus it is no surprise that we find only one design.

Bindings with paper onlay titles, 1856-1858.
The bookbinders even continued to use the embossing plate after papier-mâché went out of style.  (It was popular for a very short time.) Instead of attaching the papier-mâché medallions, the binder glued colorful paper onlays into the sunken circle and gold-stamped the titles over them. Binders used this technique on books for other publishers, and on fiction, rather than just gift books for Leavitt & Allen.  In every case, though, the result is eye-catching, which is what publishers wanted in order to compete in a crowded market.  

Jennifer W. Rosner
Chief of Conservation