Monday, July 29, 2019

19th Century MA Primary School Pamphlets

It’s summer vacation, so why on earth am I uttering the word “school,” you ask?  Well, because the State Library has a wonderful collection of Massachusetts primary school pamphlets in its collection!  Most of these pamphlets are from the 19th century and describe graduation exercise programs and courses being offered throughout the school year (like your modern-day school handbook).  Other information they offer include students and faculty members’ names, history and images of the school, and even tuition rates for private schools.  Take a look in our online catalog to see what the library has in its collection.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Ponzi Scheme

Many of us have heard the term “Ponzi scheme,” but did you know that this term infamously originated in Massachusetts?

Charles Ponzi, courtesy of WikiCommons.

Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant who arrived in New York in 1903. He worked odd jobs there before heading up to Montreal, Canada to work at an Italian bank. He lost this job and was convicted of forging a check and spent time in a Canadian jail. Less than three weeks after his release, he was arrested again for smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States and spent time in a federal penitentiary.

By 1917, Ponzi had made his way up to Boston and was working as a clerk and stenographer. While he and his wife, Rose Maria Gnecco, were able to afford a modest lifestyle on his salary, Ponzi had expensive tastes and was dissatisfied with his lot in life. He began exploring different money-making schemes to make up for his spendthrift ways.

Perhaps because he had worked in a post office in Italy before coming to North America, Ponzi focused on International Reply Coupons (IRC), which were coupons that could be exchanged for one or more postage stamps, allowing a person to send someone in another country a letter without acquiring foreign postage or using foreign currency. Due to economic changes brought on by World War I, Ponzi figured that he could buy IRCs in bulk from countries with depressed currencies, use them to purchase U.S. stamps at a discount, and then redeem the stamps for American dollars at a profit. This scheme appeared to be legal, and he began the Securities Exchange Company in December 1919.

The Niles Building at 27 School Street in Boston,
where Charles Ponzi had an office.

His easy get-rich-quick scheme, in addition to his personal charm, attracted not just wealthy investors, but other struggling immigrants just like Ponzi. Some of these people entrusted their life savings to Ponzi, who had promised them a 50% rate of return. Often his customers would reinvest their profits rather than take the payment. Ponzi soon realized that the demand he had created was far more than the total number of IRCs in the world, and he began investing in high-risk ventures in order to pay the promised 50% returns to his clients. Still, he was making millions, buying expensive cars and homes, and his company began setting up branches from Maine to New Jersey.

The popularity of his business soon attracted attention from the media, and the Boston Post ran a series of articles in July 1920 about Ponzi’s investments. While initially the articles were positive, the Post’s publisher and editor became more and more suspicious and assigned investigative journalists to look into the feasibility of Ponzi’s business. The Boston Post also contacted the financial journalist Clarence Barron, who identified many discrepancies between Ponzi’s promises and the reality of IRCs. Barron stated that even if it was as good as it seemed, Ponzi’s business was ultimately profiting at the expense of the U.S. government. The state government of Massachusetts audited the Securities Exchange Company, and discovered that Ponzi owed millions more than he had in assets. People from all walks of life had invested huge sums, and these revelations caused a frenzied panic that Ponzi struggled to control. With new evidence about the infeasiblity of his business popping up throughout the summer, Ponzi surrendered to federal authorities on August 12, 1920.

House Bill 1175 of 1921: Report of The Special Commission To Investigate
The Sale Of Corporate Securities And Related Matters, January, 1921.

Ponzi was subsequently arrested on charges of mail fraud and spent two years in federal prison. His investors had lost about $20 million, which amounts to over $256 million dollars today. Following this time in federal prison, he also faced state charges and was convicted of larceny in Massachusetts. When he was released in 1934, he was deported to Italy. He eventually moved to Brazil, where he died in 1949.

While his name is now synonymous for fraudulent business dealings, it appears that Ponzi never intended to swindle any of his customers. His questionable business dealings were not malicious, and he he had a generous reputation previous to starting the Securities Exchange Company. Back in Montreal, he had lived with and helped to support the family of his boss, the bank manager Luigi Zarossi, who had fled to Mexico when it became clear that Zarossi’s bank had failed. Later, while working at a mining camp, he volunteered to two major operations to donate his skin to a nurse who was burned in an accident. At the end of his life, he granted one last interview with an American reporter, saying “Even if they never got anything for it, it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought, I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over.”

Further reading:

Ponzi! The Boston Swindler by Donald H. Dunn (1975)
“In Ponzi We Trust” by Mary Darby, Smithsonian Magazine (December 1998)
The Rise of Mr. Ponzi by Charles Ponzi (1936 autobiography)

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, July 15, 2019

Copyright Basics and Exceptions

Copyright exists so that creators of books, films, sound recordings and more can get credit and perhaps profit from their creations. It involves ideas such as licensing, fair use, competing rules and court cases.  This blog will briefly address and explain these issues.

One of the more recent additions to copyright is that most things that were published in 1923 are now part of the public domain; this means these items are no longer copyrighted and can be used freely. For instance, this picture of Harold Lloyd in the movie Safety Last can be used and any theater can show the movie The Ten Commandments without being charged a fee.

Over time, the laws and rules of copyright have changed.  Currently, the US has treaties with other countries which allows the original author and their heir to hold a copyright on materials.

There is another idea in copyright called “fair use.”  It is an exception to copyright law and allows for the right of:
  • Reproduction of a work or part of a work
  • Adaptation
  • The distribution of works
  • Public performance
  • Public display
  • Digital transmission (sound recordings only).

This idea allows libraries to send items out on interlibrary loan, let teachers share things in the classroom and other possible uses.

There are four factors that someone must consider to see if fair use can be applied. The four factors include:
  • Originality
  • An expression of an idea.
  • Fixed in a tangible medium
  • Value of use

Fair Use Checklist 

In order to balance the ideas of access to information and copyright, there are guidelines that have been created to help librarians and users if they are within the limits of fair use. This checklist allows someone to consider different factors in making a decision whether an item such as a book, film, picture or other media can be used even if an item has a copyright.  If someone is using a copyrighted item in the classroom, for research, and for an educational institution, this favors fair use and under many circumstances would be allowed. If the item under question is for commercial use, someone is profiting from using the item and denying the original author credit; this leans against fair use and might be against the law to use the material because of copyright infringement.

There are certain things that cannot be copyrighted, such as recipes and facts. Other things that cannot be copyrighted are titles, short phrases, and US Government Documents.   State documents are usually not copyrighted although once in a while there is copyrighted material in a state document, especially if an outside author or firm has been contracted to produce a document or part of a document.  Items that were once under copyright but the copyright expired become part of the public domain and can be used.

Monkey selfies cannot be copyrighted.  Monkeys or any animal do not have the right to copyright their work because they are not human.  This is a real court case of a monkey selfie.  A photographer set up the picture.  Then the monkey took the camera and took a picture of herself. The monkey picture is online and is in the public domain.  The camera owner also does not have copyright because he did not take the picture.

A newer way of dealing with copyrighted documents or images is Creative Commons licensing.  According to their website:

Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve. Every Creative Commons license works around the world and lasts as long as applicable copyright lasts. 
There are 6 licenses in the Creative Commons licensing as listed on their website
These are: 

  • A) CC BY (Attribution) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms. 
  • B) CC BY-SA (Attribution-Share Alike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • C) CC BY-ND (Attribution-No-Derivatives) This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.
  • D) CC BY-NC (Attribution-Non-Commercial) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • E) CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • F) CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-NoDerivatives) This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.


If one wants to use images that are free of copyright, one can look at images that have CC0 licensing through Creative Commons.   The CC0 means there are zero restrictions on these images and you do not even have to mention the person that is responsible for the image which is called an attribution.  These images are in the public domain and there are no restrictions on them.

Flickr images can be used although it is good to check with whomever owns the images to see if they want credit or have other restrictions.

A search for items in the public domain can be done but if you do a search you may get a warning that the images may be under copyright, especially if you are searching images in Google.

For more information

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, July 8, 2019

Happy 147th Birthday Calvin Coolidge!

Over the past few months, I was a cataloger helping the State Library catalog their vast collections of maps and pictures. During this project, I came across some new photographs of Calvin Coolidge and his family that were not previously accessible in the collection. With Coolidge’s birthday just around the corner, I thought it was a good time to share these new photographs with you, as well as some of our other items concerning Coolidge.

Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont.  He was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and President of the Massachusetts Senate.  He was also the 48th Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, before becoming Vice President to Warren G. Harding.  On August 2, 1923, President Harding died of a sudden heart attack, making Coolidge the 30th President of the United States.

The new photographs being added to the catalog are portraits of Coolidge and his family.

This one is of him and his wife, Grace.

This one is of him and his entire family,
including his sons John and Calvin Jr.

This one is of the Coolidge children, along with, who we presume, is their
grandfather Colonel John C. Coolidge and Captain I. Goodhue.

This photograph, from the same series, is of Coolidge
alone, maybe for a gubernatorial or presidential portrait.

There are many other photographs of Calvin Coolidge in the State Library’s collections, some are available to see digitally through Digital Commonwealth and can be accessed through our online catalog. The Digital Commonwealth is an online resource started from a grant by the Massachusetts Board of Library Trustees to connect Massachusetts libraries and their patrons with digital content from all over the Commonwealth and provides free online access to thousands of images, documents, and sound recordings.

The Special Collections Department also has many collections of ephemera about Coolidge-- one being a scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning Calvin and Grace Coolidge. You can find it in our online catalog here and please feel free to visit our Special Collections Department in Room 55 to look at it.

The State Library will also be featuring Calvin Coolidge in our fall exhibit, so keep an eye out in this blog for more details!

Katherine Davis
Reference Technician

Monday, July 1, 2019

Friends Newsletter - July issue is here