The Circus is in Town

circus poster, Donaldson Litho. Co.

Chromolithograph (circa 1898) of circus acrobats from the Huston Collection in Eva G. Farris Special Collections at Northern Kentucky University.

This picture shows a color lithograph of circus acrobats published sometime after 1898 by the Donaldson Lithograph Company of Newport, Kentucky. The company specialized in printing large advertising posters. It was known for its generic posters that buyers could customize themselves by adding names and dates to save money. Donaldson Lithograph Company posters advertised circuses and other traveling performance acts  like hypnotists, musicians, and sword-swallowers. The posters were printed as a series of smaller prints and then pasted together on large buildings or barns.

During the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, Cincinnati was well-known for producing high quality lithographs. The Donaldson Lithograph Company, which stemmed from one founded in 1862 by William M. Donaldson and Henry Elmes, moved from Cincinnati to an old watch case factory at the corner of 6th and Washington streets in Newport in 1898. At its height, the company employed around 300 workers. Although the Consolidated Lithographing Co. took over in 1905, the company name, its Newport location and Donaldson’s position as chair remained unchanged. In addition to the Donaldson Lithograph Company, Strobridge Lithographing Company was another internationally-recognized Cincinnati lithograph company.  Lithography is still a popular method for printing.

The poster is on display in the Archives Research Room located in 106 Steely Library through May 2014.

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Recent Donation of Visual Art

Eva G. Farris Special Collections is pleased to announce the generous donation of fourteen architectural drawings and graphic and photogravure prints from Mr. Larry Huston. These fine pieces help Special Collections document visual art and northern Kentucky’s business history.

Among the donated items are several design drawings of ornamental fencing and gates created by Stewart Iron Works. Stewart Iron Works, from Covington, Kentucky, traces its origins to 1862 and still operates today. Specializing in detailed architectural and structural steel and iron work, some of the company’s major projects include jail cells for Alcatraz, iron fencing for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and gates to Fort Knox. One of the donated architectural drawings depicts elaborate gates designed for the Holmes Estate at Holmesdale in Covington. Torn down in 1936, Holmes High School now sits on the estate’s original location.

Color Lithograph (c. 1890s) from the Donaldson Lithography Company, Newport, Ky.

Color Lithograph (c. 1890s) from the Donaldson Lithography Company, Newport, Ky.

Mr. Huston also donated a color lithograph produced by the Donaldson Lithography Company of Newport, Kentucky. Male circus performers animate the large lithograph, which was printed in the 1890s. Cincinnati was a well-known commercial center for graphic arts including lithography and printing during this period. The piece is a beautiful example of advertising and the nature of entertainment in the late 19th century.

Four photogravure prints from Karl Blossfeldt’s (1865-1932) Urformen der Kunst published in 1928 are included in the gift. Blossfeldt was an important German photographer and teacher who specialized in creating close-up photographs of plants. He used his detailed photographs to study the field of art and nature. The four prints demonstrate Blossfeldt’s attention to the beauty and complexity of botanical life.

Special Collections and University Archives is open to the public Monday-Friday from 1-4p.m. and other times by appointment in Steely Library room 106 on the Highland Heights campus of Northern Kentucky University. We invite interested researchers to contact us prior to their visit by emailing Anne Ryckbost ( for regional history collections or Vicki Cooper ( for NKU history.

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Our ten minutes of NEH fame

Inspired after reading the archives’ NEH grant proposal for security (which the NEH generously funded in 2013), associate editor Steve Moyer wrote about the post card collecting craze as exemplified by the Gilliam Postcard Collection for Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The article is freely available online at .


                          Screenshot of Humanities


“Wishing You Were Here” highlights some of the gems found in the digital collection – view more of the collection online .

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Leon Van Loo: A Man of Many Talents

My first few months at the NKU Archives have been a transformative experience, as both a budding historian and student of the university. Northern Kentucky University is incredibly lucky to have such a friendly and obliging staff on hand to help aid those in need of obtaining further information and resources in regards to independent/group projects and research-oriented study. Artifacts in the archives are so much more than remnants of the past; there are real people inside the boxes, with first-hand accounts to offer and amazing stories to share.

I’ve been working on a number of small projects for both the University Archives and Special Collections departments. The tedious process of going through a collection is one that must be handled with great care, consideration, and an eye for detail, whether you’re putting old photographs in to new sleeves or transcribing oral histories to post to an online repository. The Fitzgerald and Garrett Collections, most notably, have proved to be both inspiring and exceedingly interesting.

The Fitzgerald Collection, for example, is an assembly of pieces — including archaeological dig artifacts and hundreds of photographs — that belonged to Mr. William Fitzgerald and his family. Fitzgerald, a local historian and member of the Boone County Kentucky Historical Society and Florence City Council, was a prominent figure in the community. Amongst the photographs I was sifting through, there was a cabinet card (a style of photograph which was commonly used in the late 1800s/early 1900s, consisting of a photograph mounted on a card) with a stamped logo for a local gallery and studio in Cincinnati belonging to Mr. Leon Van Loo.

portrait of female                                        Back of print showinf Van Loo's gallery information

Photograph (front-R; back-L) from MS 23 William And Ann Fitzgerald Collection, Eva G. Farris Special Collections, W. Frank Steely Library, Northern Kentucky University

 A photographer, painter, and art collector, Leon Van Loo was a man of many talents and interests. Originally from Belgium, he studied photography under Charles Waldack, his idol and mentor. Waldack opened a gallery at 32½ West Third Street in Cincinnati in 1858. Over the next several decades, Van Loo would travel all around the world collecting pieces for the gallery. In 1875, he introduced a new kind of photography, a style he would become synonymous with, a style he called “ideal.” A revolutionary process, images were printed on zinc oxide and applied to blackened sheet-iron, which presented a pearly, transparent surface that had never been seen before.

Later in life, Van Loo became one of the founding members of the Cincinnati Art Club. He died in Cincinnati on January 10, 1907 and left a strangely amusing request in his will, “To the Cincinnati Art Club the sum of $250 to pay for a dinner to be given in the club-room, as soon as practicable after my death, to the members of the Club. If there is such a thing as the spirit of the dead returning to earth (which I do not believe), I shall be with the boys on that festive occasion.”(Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct.27, 1907 and Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Jan 15/30, 1907)  A sense of humor, beyond the grave; I like it!

In archives, one photograph can lead you down a hundred different roads. It truly is a delight coming in to work and awaiting what new discoveries might be made that day. In the case of Mr. Van Loo, all it took was a stamp on the back of a cabinet card and a particularly interesting name to spark an interest. His story is one of hard-work, determination, and talent, and even though many people have never heard of him or his work — despite having garnered a Wikipedia page (a 21st century honor that surely means you’ve made it) — I’m happy to share with you a piece of his life, if only just a snippet.

Post by Alexandra Daniels

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Join us for Connecting Collections and Learning on Nov. 15

NKU’s Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement invites you to an exciting Engage@NKU Breakfast on Friday, November 15 from 8:30-11 a.m.  The event features special guest speaker Valerie Komor, the corporate archivist for the Associated Press. Valerie will discuss the challenges and unique requirements of  archiving for a worldwide organization. She will also share a few stories on “discoveries” she has made in the AP archives.

Participants will hear from Dr. Brian Hackett, NKU’s public history program director, about how students are working with area museum and will learn from Lois Hamill, university archivist and associate professor, about the resources available at the W. Frank Steely Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Participants will have an opportunity to network with NKU faculty and staff after the event.

The general public is invited to attend this event. However, staff, board members and volunteers with museums, historical associations, archives, and preservation groups may be especially interested in attending.

Reservations are recommended as seating is limited and filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Reservations can be made at

Contact Collette Thompson, Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement’s coordinator, at 859-572-7847 or with any questions.

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What was NKU Wearing?

The Book Connection program at NKU seeks to unite first year students and faculty and staff with a common read. This year’s selection is Where Am I Wearing? by travel journalist Kelsey Timmerman. In the book, the author recounts his experiences visiting garment and textile factories around the world in a quest to trace the origins of his t-shirt, blue jeans, flip-flops, and even his underwear.

Special Collections and Archives curated the exhibit Where was NKU wearing? featuring clothing from several of our historical collections to support the Book Connection program. The exhibit seeks to foster dialogue among students and faculty on issues related to consumerism, globalization, and poverty from a historical perspective. Visitors can see an NKU basketball jersey and an early 20th century cavalry riding boot.  NKU students can participate in the Book Connection Challenge by answering exhibit trivia questions via email.

Kelsey Timmerman is on campus this week engaging with students at a number of events. Visit for more details and stop by 106 Steely Library to catch the exhibit! Image

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University Archivist Receives State Historical Publication Award for Book

hamill_book_72University Archivist Lois Hamill has been selected as the recipient of a 2013 Kentucky History Award for her book Archives for the Lay Person: a Guide to Managing Cultural Collections. The Kentucky History Awards, given by the Kentucky Historical Society, recognize outstanding achievements by historians, public history professionals, volunteers, business and civic leaders, communities, and historical organizations throughout the Commonwealth. This year’s ceremony will take place in the Old Statehouse in Frankfort on November 8th.

Having worked at a local historical society herself, Hamill knows firsthand that they often hold historically significant records, typically do not have a trained archivist on staff, and have limited resources. This awareness led the author to provide practical guidance for the most common functions for managing cultural collections      in the setting of a small or volunteer run organization. Knowing the diverse range of formats found in cultural repositories, the author presents specialized information for photographs, paper records, audio and video material, digital files and others.

Whether readers are volunteers at the local historical society, trained librarians who manage the public library local history room, museum curators at a historical property with a few archival documents, or a newly graduated archivist working alone, they will find basic archival functions are demystified in lay language with an emphasis on the practical. Chapters include pertinent additional resources.

Steely Library owns a copy of Archives for the Lay Person that is available for borrowing ( The book is available in paper and electronic form. Copies can be purchased from the publisher at

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Welcome back, NKU students!

We hope the 2013-2014 school year has gotten off to a great start for all our new and returning students! We came across a fun blog to help you answer some of college life’s most pressing questions. Hope you find as entertaining as we did!

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Records and Information Management in the University Archives

Ever wonder how a university archives decides what records to collect? As a state funded university, NKU must follow Kentucky’s records laws regarding both records retention and destruction.  These laws require employees to create, maintain and make accessible records which document the university’s functions, policies, procedures, decisions and essential transactions. In other words, state records laws ensure the permanent preservation of Northern Kentucky University’s history. Because of these laws, records and information management at NKU is similar to filing your taxes – it’s required, not optional.

The NKU Records and Information Management Program helps employees determine what records they may destroy, what they must keep, and what they must transfer to the University Archives. Employees may schedule individual consultations or group training sessions designed to help them understand Kentucky’s records laws and successfully apply the state universities’ records retention schedule. In addition to these privately scheduled trainings, a university wide training event is held annually.

This summer marked the 5th consecutive year of a university wide records and information management training event. This year’s event consisted of a “basics” training class and a door-to-door “How Can We Help You?” campaign. These office visits resulted in direct contact with over 95 offices and presented employees with the opportunity to receive immediate answers to their records management questions.  Additionally, a “How Can We Help You?” survey distributed during these visits provided valuable feedback on how campus employees manage their records and what additional training is needed.  It appears that the program is having a positive impact on campus based on these survey participants’ comments.

“… super helpful answering all my questions so we can purge old files.”

“training was very helpful. I know we have to keep these records, but it really helps to know the reasoning behind it. And what can happen if records are not kept.”

Interested in learning more about NKU’s Records & Information Management Program? Please visit us at or contact Vicki Cooper, Records and Information Manager,

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Pass the Word

Check out our guest post “Gambling, Prostitution and Collusion! Oh my!” about crime and civic reform in Newport during the 1950s and 1960s on Pass the Word’s blog at Complete the Pass the Word Challenge accompanying the post for a prize!

Pass the Word is an online discovery tool for oral history collections throughout the state of Kentucky. It makes oral history interviews easy to locate because it serves as a centralized database for collections available at over 100 Kentucky archives. Pass the Word is a project of the Kentucky Oral History Commission located at

Special Collections has contributed information for interviews from the H. Lew Wallace Newport History Collection ( We look forward to adding information about our other oral history collections on the Pass the Word discovery tool soon!

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