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From the Archives

“Underworld Courier”: The Dumbarton Oaks Newsletter from the Pre-Digital Era

During the early years of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a group of eight librarians, cataloguers, and researchers inhabited the basement area that now houses the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. They referred to this area as “The Underworld.” In 1941, with the participation of Louisa Bellinger, who was Research Assistant for the Dumbarton Oaks Census, this group “published” Dumbarton Oaks’ first newsletter, the “Underworld Courier.” In the “Courier,” which was typed and replicated with carbon paper, there were brief reports on all aspects of the new institution: the library, the Collection, the Census, the gardens, the Fellows Quarters—even a weather report. Vol. 1, no. 1 (January 11, 1941), for example, offers the following:

“Visitors come steadily and with serious interest to the Collection. One day the Swiss Minister and his wife came to the Library to hunt in our books for parallels to a Limoges enamel which had been offered to them by a dealer. Though we have not attempted to collect much material on the subject, they did find exactly what they wanted, and left, convinced that the object had a fair chance of being all that the dealer claimed.”

For the “St. Valentine’s Day Issue,” vol. 1, no. 5 (February 8, 1941), Louisa Bellinger created a Dumbarton Oaks Census record (Reg. No. 41.2.14) (below) with images of a selection of Coptic textiles depicting “Cupid” and hearts. The description reads:

“From the Dumbarton Oaks Census File
(The Coptic home, next to the Nile)
The putti, with zest
Have all left for the West
Bearing Valentine Greetings in style.”

The nineteen issues of volume 1 and the five issues of volume 2 are preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. The “Underworld Courier” ceased publication on October 10, 1941.

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