Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

Five Folger Finds for beating the heat and cooling off this summer


Is the July heat getting to you? Here are five items from the Folger Shakespeare Library collection that are just right for summertime.

1. A 1699 guide to swimming

“In the seventeenth century, swimming was viewed not so much as a recreational pastime but more as an exercise in self-discipline and a mechanical art through which men could build and manage body strength,” according to Elizabeth Walsh, Head of Reader Services, and Rosalind Larry, Head of Circulation, who featured this swimming guide by Melchisédec Thévenot in How-to Books for Everyday Living as part of the 2009 Folger exhibition The Curatorial Eye: Discoveries from the Folger Vault.

The art of swimming

Melchisédec Thévenot. The art of swimming. Illustrated by proper figures. With advice for bathing. London, 1699 (Detail) Folger 169-742q

“Thévenot’s illustrations highlight certain physical activities, such as cutting the toenails, pictured to the left, which are allegedly easier to accomplish in the water than on dry land. This popular how-to manual enjoyed wide circulation; even Benjamin Franklin owned a copy.”

2. A hand-painted 18th-century fan

This beautiful fan depicts the marriage scene from the end of Shakespeare’s Henry V, between Henry V and Katherine. You may recognize this fan from the portrait of Emily Jordan Folger that hangs in the Folger’s Reading Room; she’s holding it in her right hand.

painted fan

[Hand-painted fan depicting the marriage scene from Henry V] [realia] Folger ART Inv. 1132 (realia)

3. A 17th-century recipe for “snow cream”

What’s better in July than a cool treat to eat with fresh summer fruit? The Folger has the world’s largest collection of early modern English manuscript recipe books, and one of those recipes is for a tasty dish called “snow cream.” Think cream, sugar, and rosewater, whipped together and served over strawberries and almonds — delicious!

Marissa Nicosia has shared an easy adaptation of this recipe on the Cooking in the Archives website for those of us unfamiliar with early modern spelling, but here’s the original handwritten recipe, found in a recipe book belonging to Mary Hookes:

4. A walled garden with a fountain

Sometimes in the summer you might start wishing you could find that perfect city park or completely redo your backyard space to construct an idyllic retreat. Behold, the walled garden of your dreams. Just imagine the gentle breeze wafting over a light, cooling mist from the flowing fountain at the center.

This illustration from the 1633 devotional book Partheneia sacra depicts “the mysterious and delicious garden of the sacred Parthenes,” with lots of symbolism related to the Virgin Mary.

5. Notes on air conditioning

Letter from Henry Folger about air conditioning

Air conditioning is now considered practically essential for making it through a scorching summer, particularly at a research library with rare books. But our founder, Henry Folger, took a little convincing back in 1930, as we shared in our 2019 exhibition A Monument to Shakespeare: The Architecture of the Folger Shakespeare Library, curated by Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe:

When the possibility of including air conditioning was raised during design discussions, Henry Folger asked architect Alexander Trowbridge, “what is meant by the expression ‘Air conditioning’?” After learning more about “this apparatus,” he expressed surprise “that anyone would undertake, in a building of that size, in Washington, to secure a temperature of 85 degrees in the Summer with a 50% humidity.” Henry Folger ultimately recommended that air conditioning be installed only in the book vaults, and that the library itself close to researchers during the hottest weeks of the summer.

Letter from Henry Folger about air conditioning

Thankfully, the entire Folger building has air conditioning now (not just the book vaults), and HVAC upgrades are part of the major building renovation project currently taking place. When the Folger building reopens to the public after construction is complete, the new gathering spaces will provide perfect opportunities to escape from the swampy summer air of Washington, DC.

⇒ Related: Summertime in the Folger collection: Sunshine, youth, and harvest