A Booklover’s Day Trip to Portsmouth, NH

August 28, 2022, Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth Historical Society, and the Rundlet-May House

Eleven Ticknor members enjoyed a beautiful summer day in Portsmouth, NH, visiting three bookish sites and learning more about the city’s fascinating history. Tom Hardiman started the festivities at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, where he introduced us to the Athenaeum in its past and present forms and took us on a tour of their historic building’s three public floors. Along the way, we got to see ship models, an exhibit on the life and work of artist George S. Wasson, a letter from George Ticknor to the president of the Athenaeum, and first editions of some of the great works of 19th-century literature, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Emma, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and more.

After a brief break for lunch, we moved on to the Portsmouth Historical Society, where we were met by Nina Maurer, guest curator of the exhibit “Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books.” Nina explained the origins of the show, which focuses on children’s book illustrators based in northern New England, and pointed out some highlights, such as a page from Barry Moser’s edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a hand-colored print from an anniversary edition of the Wizard of Oz, before letting us loose in the galleries to view everything at our own pace.

We ended the day at the Rundlet-May House, the well-preserved home of a merchant built in 1807 and now part of Historic New England. On our guided tour, led by Melissa Kershaw, the Regional Site Administrator for Northern New England, and volunteer docent Kathleen, we learned about the four generations who lived in the house and how their fortunes connected to the larger history of Portsmouth. Though occupied into the 1970s by Ralph May, the home still retains the original wallpaper and state-of-the-art (for the early 1800s!) Rumford kitchen system, and Ralph’s study full of books, toys, and Harvard memorabilia looks exactly the same as the day he left.

All-in-all, it was a whirlwind day of bibliophilia, and the perfect start to the new Ticknor event season!

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