New Acquisition: Jantzen Swimwear Advertising Portfolio

What is the value of a new acquisition? Curators must consider how new items fit into already existing collections and why a new piece is relevant and worthwhile to add. SCRC’s recent acquisition of a portfolio of Jantzen Swimwear advertising photographs from the 1930s and 1940s features 111 silver gelatin prints of swimwear from this era, bringing value to our collections in relation to plastics, fashion, advertising and photography materials. Three staff members discuss the value of this acquisition below.

Cover of the Janzten advertising portfolio.

Cover of the Jantzen portfolio which is embossed in red with “Jantzen Swimwear” in the center and “Jantzen Knitting Mills Portland, Oregon” in the lower right corner.

Fashion and Plastics
Courtney Asztalos, Plastics and Historical Artifacts Curator

This acquisition of the Jantzen Swimwear advertising portfolio illustrates the relationship between American fashion, the textiles industry, and the rise of the plastics industry during the 1930s and 1940s.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman posing in a 1930s style swimsuit.

Advertising photograph from the 1930s showcasing the new types of fabric and styles introduced by Jantzen.

The photographs in the Jantzen portfolio are evidence of artificial and synthetic fibers’ role in transforming American swimwear. One rubber yarn present in these swimsuits and of particular historical importance is Lastex. This “miracle fiber” was patented in 1931 by Percy Adamson, of the Adamson Brothers Company. The Adamson Company quickly became a subsidiary of the US Rubber Company (a company under the ownership of the Du Pont family starting in 1927), and Lastex entered the market for distribution in 1931. Lastex earned the title of the “depression solvent” because of its ability to hold shape and its reputation for durability through the laundry process. Lauded in its time as one of the most inventive achievements in the manufacturing of textiles—Lastex was latex in thread form. Latex was created by manufacturing a rubber tree’s milk and then extruding the result into a round thread form. This new thread was then tightly enclosed with wound layers of yarn such as cotton, wool, acetate, silk or rayon.

Americans were skeptical of artificial fibers in the earlier part of the twentieth century because of their unpredictability, particularly through processes of washing and ironing. Through the process of cleaning these garments, such as early rayon, consumers found clothing would stretch out and become gummy and unwearable. However, with innovations in textile manufacturing and the practice of combining various types of new fibers to achieve more durable fabrics, American trust shifted.

Black-and-white photograph of two women posing in 1930s style swimsuits,

Models posing in palm-tree print bathing suits from the Jantzen portfolio.

By 1932, Jantzen was one of the most recognized trademarks in the world due to their advertising strategies and the popularity of the Diving Girl logo. Jantzen’s utilization of Lastrex helped them to further develop their brand as “smart swimming apparel.” As the 1930s advanced, Lastrex allowed Jantzen to create new bathing suits that differed from the previous woolen suits known for soaking up water and drooping. The ways human bodies were on display in public swimming spaces drastically began to change—shapes now could be smoothed, structured, or suppressed in an infinite number of ways.

Hollywood and Advertising
Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

The Jantzen Swimwear portfolio brings value to SCRC’s collections for what it tells us about twentieth-century fashion, through the lenses of Hollywood fashion, advertising, and popular culture. During the 1930s, Jantzen’s innovative approach to fabrics and textiles, coupled with a persuasive and pervasive advertising department, led the brand to dominate the burgeoning swimsuit industry. Jantzen’s advertising emphasized the essential nature of swimming as a leisure activity, no longer available only to wealthy resort-goers, but a democratic, all-American pursuit.

Black-and-white photograph of two models standing on a boardwalk wearing bathing suits from the 1930s.

Models posing near the boardwalk in the Jantzen portfolio.

Jantzen struck a balance between glamour and accessibility in its advertising. This essential balance is evident in the photographs in Jantzen’s advertising portfolio. In addition to traditional posed studio shots, models for the Jantzen line lounged near pools, frolicked in the water, and smiled on boardwalks. They accessorized with espadrilles and cover-ups and stood next to wicker furniture, highlighting the expanded role that swimming was assuming in American life through a range of products. Looking at the Jantzen portfolio of photos, the stylish swimwear and photography set-ups mimic standard glamour shots and fashion styles popular in Hollywood during this time.

The stylish advertisements presented the idea to Americans that they could be as glamorous as Hollywood stars in their Jantzen swimwear. And, in fact, Jantzen’s relationship with Hollywood extended beyond the design of their advertising photographs. The company frequently enlisted up-and-coming stars to model for the Jantzen brand, beginning with actress Loretta Young, who was awarded the title of “Miss Jantzen” in 1931, and continuing throughout the 1930s and 1940s with other stars, including Esther Williams, Marilyn Monroe, and James Garner. The styles of the company’s swimwear naturally echoed styles worn by stars on screen as well. For example, a glamorous hooded beach coat (pictured below) bears a noticeable resemblance to Lana Turner’s iconic white beach coat and bathing suit in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Black-and-white photograph of two models posing in a hooded swimsuit cover-up.

Jantzen’s glamorous hooded cover-up echoes similar styles worn by Hollywood stars in the 1930s and 1940s.

Cover-ups like this beach coat helped make the company’s otherwise cheeky bathing suit designs respectable. The practice of putting a wholesome cover-up over a scandalous suit applied to both male and female bathers at this time. Several pictures in the advertising portfolio feature male swimmers dressed in what appears to be a men’s one-piece bathing suit. In fact, a zipper separates the upper and lower halves of the swimsuit, making the adjustable swimsuit versatile for the wearer, as many public beaches at this time required men to cover their chests.

Black-and-white photograph of two male models in a 1930s swimsuit.

Jantzen’s one-piece adjustable men’s bathing suit.

Teaching and Research
Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator of Exhibitions, Programs, and Education

When considering whether to acquire an item being offered as a donation or being sold from a bookseller, a primary concern for a curator is how the item will be used by researchers and in particular how interesting it will be for teaching here at Syracuse University.

Black-and-white photograph of Jantzen models from the 1930s.

Glamorous Jantzen models pose in the new bathing suit styles from the 1930s.

The Jantzen Swimwear advertising portfolio has crossover interest for many departments on campus and so it is a good fit for using in our classroom with a wide variety of materials. Classes studying the history of advertising have an example of one company’s internal documentation of their marketing images, and they can take a look how the shots are staged, or investigate the larger social construction of race, class, and gender through marketing at the time. Classes interested in photography have 111 example of silver gelatin prints and can study the physical prints themselves, or photography in the context of marketing in the 1930’s. The glamorous Hollywood style images are so visually compelling that they can be paired with any mix of materials for a introductory class demonstrating the wide variety of material available for historic research in a special collections. Beyond their contextual and historic information, the binder is sturdy and the photographs are in clear sleeves which means the pages can be turned by students in classes without having to pull out white gloves to handle the photographs, which means it is easy to use and can physically withstand classroom use.

The Jantzen Swimwear Photographs are part of SCRC’s special collection materials (Jantzen Swimwear Photographs, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

Craig, Hazel Thompson, 1904-, and Ola Day Rush. Clothes With Character. Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1941.

Lenček, L., & Bosker, G. (1989). Making waves: Swimsuits and the undressing of America. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Richmond, Clifford A. The History And Romance of Elastic Webbing. [Easthampton, Mass.: Printed at the Easthampton news company, 1946.

Ward, Susan. “Swimwear.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele, vol. 3, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 250-255. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Wallance, Don. Shaping America’s Products. New York: Reinhold, 1956.

Blake’s Prints: 1789 Songs of Innocence by William Blake

By Sheridan Bishoff, Public Services Assistant

A woman is seated on a chair with two young people leaning over a book held in her lap, while whimsical tree branches curl and twist up from the right of the page forming the title, “Songs of Innocence.”

Title page from Songs of Innocence

I am an Art History graduate student at Syracuse University, so it is always an exhilarating experience to stumble upon a work of art while working in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries. SCRC holds a diverse group of rare books, including a 1789 edition of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. In 1794, Blake expanded Songs of Innocence into its final version Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). Together, they show the two contrary states of the human soul.  

The pages of our volume were removed from their binding and matted for preservation. My introduction to Blake’s Songs of Innocence came when I was asked to number the matted plates. The pages of Songs of Innocence contain a collection of poems and works of art copied from copperplate engravings and then hand-painted. I saw great care placed into each etching when I was observing the book. While prints are considered a means of duplication, every color wash by Blake gives a different life to his artwork. Some editions explore various ranges of light and shade, expanding beyond expectations of local color.

Largely dismissed in Blake’s lifetime, his work is now considered an important example in the history of English poetry. The popularity of Blake’s writing today has led to easy access of his poems in print and online. However, it is not always easy to see a full range of watercolor washes and prints integrated with his poetry.  SU’s Songs of Innocence contains unique relief etched impressions with color choices unlike other editions created during the late eighteenth century.  Today, there is even an online William Blake Archive that allows you to compare the different artistic decisions. For example, the Blake Archive contains a copy of the 1789 Songs of Innocence that is currently held at the Yale Center for British Art

When comparing Yale’s to our version from the same publication year, there are striking differences in how Blake colored each individual copy. Our edition contains darker lines from the original print while Yale’s has golden undertones. Several of our prints also depict a vivacious wash of a red to blue as seen in the lower half of “The Ecchoing Green.” That poem in Yale’s copy does not contain this coverage or vibrancy of color on the lower half of this poem.

Figures merrily playing and resting beneath a full tree fills the upper frame of the page, while the lower half of the image portrays “The Ecchoing Green” poem with two children and vines undulating through space.

“The Ecchoing Green” from Songs of Innocence

Similarly, there is a variation in the overall tone of the poem“Infant Joy.” SU’s copy of the poem places a blooming flower against a soft blue. The background leads the observer to place the plant in an environment, against the blue sky. Yale’s copy of “Infant Joy” instead contains a flattening range of colors through the sparse application of blue and green. This minimal use of tone alters the audiences’ perception of space. The use of color in Yale’s “Infant Joy” therefore becomes less of a whimsical birth and more ambiguous in its surroundings.

Whirling green vines swirl up to the rood bloom that holds a small fairy and women in yellow with a baby on her lap.

“Infant Joy” from Songs of Innocence

Blake’s skill as a craftsman and printmaker is evident in his integration of text and image in Songs of InnocencePoetry creates its own visual language just as pictures do. Poetic words form a world in your mind, and Blake provides a form to that world by interweaving the words prominently among the color and forms of his poems. As seen in “Infant Joy,” the poem is placed amidst the fluid growing form as the first letter softly touches the curving neck of the blossoming plant. The leaves bend to complement the space the plant holds, creating an integrated composition. There are examples of poems that have more separation between word and image. Even in these separated images, such as “Spring” and “The Little Boy Lost” (see below), Blake fluidly activates the space of words with intricate details of wispy trees and dancing vines. Reading Blake’s poetry in mass production, only existing as words, loses some of the complexity of his original integrated compositions. 

“Spring” from Songs of Innocence

A small haloed boy in the darkness of a looming tree, runs with arms straight out to the left of the image with the poem on the bottom half of the page surrounded by winged figures.

“The Little Boy Lost” from Songs of Innocence

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with this rare work of art.  If you are interested in viewing this work, visit the Reading Room at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center.

William Blake’s 1789 edition of Songs of Innocence referenced in this post is part of our rare books collection (Rare books, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).


Additional Sources

“William Blake,” from the Poetry Foundation,

The William Blake Archive,


This post has been revised 7/15/2019 to reflect an updated description of printing technique.

Q&A with SCRC’s New Director Petrina Jackson

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your new role in the Special Collections Research Center?

I am from Cleveland, Ohio, home of Lake Erie and part of the “North Coast” of America. I am a hopeful Cleveland sports fan with a great appreciation for an underdog story.

As the Director of the Special Collections Research Center, I see myself as a leader, coach, and advocate for our amazing staff and our spectacular collections. It is my responsibility to share the importance of our work as a research library and preserver of cultural heritage materials with not only the SU community, but with Central New York, the state of New York, and the World. It is my goal that we continue to build phenomenal collections, including the stories of marginalized communities to create a more accurate picture of history, while connecting with a variety of audiences to work with these collections.

2. What has been most exciting about living in Central New York?

Wegmans! I am kidding. It is great to be back in the Finger Lakes Region for its beauty, rich history, and diversity. I began my special collections and archives career at Cornell University and was taken by Central New York’s centrality to many social movements, including abolitionism and women’s suffrage. I look forward to exploring social movements and the communities and people, who dedicated their time to them, as well as the impact of ordinary and extraordinary people on the development of the region. I look forward to the living and the work ahead.

3. What do you like to do in your spare time?

No one would be surprised to know that I like reading, especially memoirs and biographies. I find people’s lived experiences, decision-making processes, and leaps of faith fascinating. I also like watching movies of all kinds, but have a soft spot for documentaries and action films with women leads. Reality television is my guilty pleasure. I know, I know. And I could spend hours looking at non-competitive food shows. Watching the creative process and care put into making meals is so satisfying, and I love to eat! I enjoy learning about African American history, art, and culture and find drawing and crafting to be relaxing.

4. Why Special Collections? What drew you to the field?

Special Collections and archives is my second career. After earning my MA in English from Iowa State University, I taught English for seven years at a community college in Illinois. While there, I learned a lot about teaching and mentoring students and gained a great appreciation of the mission of community colleges. However, I thought I might die if I had to continue teaching a 5 minimum course load per semester. I went to a career counselor and librarianship surfaced as a career path. I shouldn’t have been surprised since I always visited with the librarians at my community college. I started requesting and conducting informational interviews with all types of librarians (law, reference, etc.) to find out what a typical day was like, what they enjoyed most about their career, and what was most challenging about being a librarian. One day, I was reading the career stacks and came across a book entitled, Alternative Careers for Librarians. In that book, I read the profile of the Simmons College Archivist, and it was then that I knew I wanted to become an archivist. For those less familiar with the term, an archivist is someone who preserves, provides access to, and promotes records of enduring value. In short, you can call us historical records warriors or guardians of cultural heritage. I contacted the Simmons College Archivist and conducted an informational interview with her. The interview confirmed my decision to pursue archives and records management as a career. I took a leave of absence from my job, pursued a Masters in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Records Management at the University of Pittsburgh, and the rest is history. The Simmons College Archivist who accepted my informational interview request is currently the University Archivist at Harvard University.

5. What collection from SCRC do you think more people need to know about?

If I had to select one collection area that I would like people to know more about it would be our 19th and 20th-century social reform collections. These collections cover abolitionism, women’s rights and suffrage, prison reform, civil rights, Native American rights, and more. In these collections, one can see the roots of current day movements like women’s reproductive rights, prison abolition, the fight against mass incarceration, environmental justice, and civil and human rights. The activists, methods, relationships, fractures, and achievements evidence a lineage that we can learn, grow, and improve from even today.

You can learn more about SCRC’s activism and social reform related collections here:

June News Wrap Up

In case you missed it, here is the monthly news wrap up with links to all the latest:

  • June 3, 2019. Petrina Jackson arrived to serve as the new director of the Special Collections Research Center
  • June 11, 2019. Congratulations to our three SCRC staff members on their promotions!
  • June 23, 2019. Announcing our Faculty Fellows who are in residence this month.

Newly processed collections:

News and Mentions:

Jane Krom Grammer: A Golden-Age Comic Book Artist Finally Receives Credit for Her Work

Highlight from June Social Media:

Syracuse University Archives' graduate student worker bee Nicole Wright is processing the Buildings and Grounds…

Posted by Syracuse University Archives on Friday, June 7, 2019

From Clay Tablet to Cyber Space: A Semester Full of Library and Archives History

By Sebastian Modrow, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

Sebastian Monroe teaching a class, turning pages on a book in the center of a semicircle of students.

Modrow with students examining materials in a class session in SCRC.

The history of libraries or archives could easily fill a whole sequence of courses. During the 2019 spring semester, a group of 12 Library Science students from Syracuse University’s iSchool and their instructor set out (very ambitiously!) to cover the major developments of these two types of information repositories, starting out at the geographic fringes of the Western World (the ancient Near East and ancient Egypt) and moving geographically and chronologically through Europe and North America all the way into the supposed ‘placelessness’ of cyber space. Their quest centered around studying the role and development of libraries and archives in their historical context. The course was called “The History of Libraries and Archives in the Western World.”

While variations of this type of course might address the history of libraries and archives individually, a joint perspective merged into one course has not yet come to my attention. Separate treatment of libraries and archives artificially disentangles a much intertwined history of these two repository types. This entanglement can still be felt today in the collection development of special collections departments, the ongoing struggle for emancipation of archival theory and practice from library management doctrine, as well as the widespread occurrence of employing trained librarians in archivist positions.

Why study library and archives history at all? An obvious benefits of the historical perspective is enabling aspiring librarians, who will engage with the ongoing discussions about the orientation of their professions, to understand the crucial role that libraries and archives play as selective information repositories in a society’s (re)construction of the collective past.  Far from being the once proclaimed pristine and untainted springs of objective information, libraries and archives have come under scrutiny for their ‘curatedness’; that is, for the impact of their collection bias as it relates to the maintenance of power structures over time.  In order to understand “history,” it might not hurt, therefore, to step back for a moment or a semester and – instead of studying Clio’s sources – to study the history of two of her most important source repositories – libraries and archives.

Two students examine rare books in class while Sebastian Monroe looks on.

Examining an original fragment of papyrus and a facsimile, side by side.

During the course, the participants learned that this sometimes confusing relationship goes back all the way to the beginning of textual repositories in ancient Mesopotamia. At the center of the course was a discussion on the centuries-permeating mythology surrounding the Library of Alexandria. Each century, the mythos grew and changed in service of the needs of librarians and historians of the time. For example, it strongly influenced the development of public libraries in the nineteenth century, thereby making the history of libraries and archives into a history of (often very powerful) ideas. The course also traced the relationship between information access and maintenance of power structures from the text repositories of the kings of Assur, democratic Athens, Republican and Imperial Rome, monastic libraries and early modern patrimonial archives all the way to the politics of modern archives and libraries.

A wide view of all of the students in class seated at tables examining materials with their laptops nearby.

The full class working in groups.

Focusing on developments in the Western World was one way to reduce the ground that needed to be covered in this course. The course met at SCRC in order to make ample use of SCRC’s holdings: from cuneiform tablets, a papyrus fragment, medieval manuscripts and early prints to digitized material online. Primary source-based learning brought these future librarians and archivists in (literal) contact with the work of their professional ancestors and allowed a first-hand experience of the physicality and thereby, the organization and preservation demands of bygone information media. When discussing, for example, the content and physical arrangement of Mesopotamian archives, students were able to study original clay tablets aided by secondary literature, archival finding aids, and related metadata from the tablets’ digital surrogates in the database of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI). When discussing medieval and early modern library security, a binding bearing traces of a chain lash exemplified the practice of chaining books to shelves and desks. More recently, a card catalog drawer could help students understand the labor of librarians and researchers of the analog age.

As part of their assignments, students gave a presentation on a selected case study of either an important information repository, such as the Library of Alexandria, the Venetian Archives or the Library of Congress, or influential figure, such as Edward Edwards or Andrew Carnegie. A final research paper brought together the students’ understanding of their future profession’s past. Paper topics ranged from “Aristotle’s Library: On Preservation and Information Control” to “Leibnizian Conceptions of the Ideal Library” to “Queer Archives as Agents of Change and Responses to Oppression.”

Two students examine a cuneiform tablet.

While working with rare books and archival materials, students were frequently asked to research and briefly present on pulled collection items. These group project-based in-class assignments, which involved searching for and researching collection materials online, introduced students to the structure of rare book related catalog records and archival finding aids. Engaging students with primary source research methodology gave occasion to discuss the workings of a special collections department, which ultimately proved to be the ideal setting for teaching a course on library and archives history.