In 1915, prominent American paleontologist, Henry Fairfield Osborn, published an extensive synthesis of Europe’s Paleolithic. Men of the Old Stone Age: Their Environment, Life, and Art drew on Osborn’s three week tour of archaeological sites in southern France and Spain – the book was Osborn’s gesture toward the integrated nature Pleistocene sciences. Archaeology, paleontology, geology, and prehistory were all part of Osborn’s Paleolithic Grand Tour and they were all part of how he wrote about the Pleistocene.
I had requested Men of the Old Stone Age – the 1915 edition published in New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons – to chase down a footnote reference for another writing project. The book arrived this week, hauled out of deep storage thanks to UT Austin’s biology library. (The librarian handed it over to me, double-fisting the tome to manage its heft, and grimmaced. “Ooof. That’s one heavy book.”) This particular copy of Men of the Old Stone Age, however, contained a most unexpected bit of material culture.
Stuck in the front flyleaf of Osborn’s volume was the original circulation card from the university library, dated 1918. The book’s call number, 571.1 OS1, was neatly printed in the upper left corner, with the author and title to the right. The first three lines of the card showed the careful cursive of three different librarians – indicating that “Gray” checked out Men of the Old Stone Age from 2 February to 9 February 1918 and renewed the book two more times. In 1921, Lula Stork and Mrs. Bleudermane traded the book between them over several months, and the circulation card, which ended in 1924 with Daphne Grisham, remained with the book for close to one hundred years. Initial readers of Men of the Old Stone Age crossed gender and age categories as the card shows the incredible demographic cross-section of readers.
There’s a fantastic bit of metaphor mimicry in the book’s subject and the circulation technology for the University of Texas’s library system. The flyleaf and back front cover show four different circulation systems, from circulation index cards to bar code scanning. For a book that highlights “inherent” nature of technological progress from the Pleistocene to the present (a rhetoric that Osborn unabashedly championed), the book mimics a stratigraphy of technology.
I’ve carefully tucked the circulation card back in the fly page of Men of the Old Stone Age – a most unexpected object in the book’s own material culture.
Osborn, Henry Fairfield. Men of the Old Stone Age, Their Environment, Life and Art. Hitchcock Lectures of the University of California 1914. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1915.