“Prodigious!” It may seem as though he is everywhere, once you arrive at RBMS. A mysterious figure, hands in the air, occasionally surrounded by books. What exactly is going on here?
Welcome to Iowa, where sometimes a joke that could, and perhaps should, fade into the obscurity it came from instead grows and grows like a field of wheat/dreams/corn. In searching for images and typefaces for the early promotional material that became our now-codified RBMS 2017 look-and-feel, I was browsing through an 1865 Iowa State Gazeteer when an ad stood out in a way I could not ignore. Here was a somberly dressed gentleman in a state of…what? Excitement? Confusion? Exultation? Surrounded by a cascade of books and with an expression on his face that can only be understood by someone who has spent long hours toiling among the bound bounty of the centuries…someone like my friends and colleagues in libraries and the trade who will be arriving in Iowa shortly for a conference.
It appears upon tracing the address listed that this advertisement is for a bookseller and stationer, Palmer Bros., in Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque in 1865 was a bustling Mississippi River town, recently a major point of departure for steamers carrying troops off to the Civil War training camps downriver in Missouri, and a site of commercial and cultural significance for the young State of Iowa. Your guess is as good as mine as to why “Prodigious!” seemed like a good selling point for the business. In any case, although he was set aside as the logo was developed, he returned with a vengeance when we started putting together the other conference materials. And thus a mascot is born. The next time those reference questions, new acquisitions, class requests, or new stock seem overwhelming, just throw your hands in the air and exclaim – “Prodigious!”
Head, Special Collections
The University of Iowa Libraries