Monday, June 22, 2015

New Collections Uploaded to Our Digital Collections Catalog

A page of tipped-in content from William Maitland’s History of London:  “A New & correct plan of all the houses destroy'd and damaged by the fire which began in Exchange Alley, Cornhill, on Friday, March 25th, 1748” with manuscript notes by Peter Collinson

Several collections were recently uploaded to ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog. Peter Collinson’s annotated first edition of William Maitland’s 1739 History of London, Frederick Gutekunt’s Scenery on the Pennsylvania Railroad photograph album, and a mixed media scrapbook album showcased in Remnants of Everyday Life, our 2013 exhibition about historical ephemera, are just some of the recently added materials.

The Library Company of Philadelphia recently acquired this first edition of Maitland’s History of London that belonged to the London merchant and naturalist Peter Collinson (1694-1768) who heavily annotated the pages.  Not only did Collinson “discover” Benjamin Franklin, he also served as the first book purchasing agent for the Library Company.  Over his years of ownership, Collinson tipped in numerous additional plates, plans, notes, documents, and clippings, with the last note dated just two years before his death.  The hundreds of annotations and notes in Collinson’s hand deal with both the changing physical fabric of the city of London and events of daily life.

Select tipped-in content and entries were catalogued and the entire book was recently digitized with the help of intern Kayla Hohenstein, a senior at Earlham College enrolled in the Philadelphia Center internship program. The uploaded catalog records and digitized content from Collinson’s edition of Maitland’s History of London are now available in ImPAC  and illustrated content is in Flickr Commons. The Library Company is also coordinating with the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and the University of Pennsylvania in order to make all the contents of this book available in their upcoming Digital Diaries Project.

Frederick Gutekunt’s Scenery on the Pennsylvania Railroad photograph album was  added to ImPAC and shared on the website luminous-lint.com , a website compiling photographs and information documenting the history of photography.   A recent gift from the Greer family, this magnificent album, dating from ca. 1875, documents the Philadelphia, Middle, and Pittsburgh divisions of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Library Company also contributed a late 19th-century scrapbook album containing periodical illustrations, comic valentines, and patent medicine advertisements compiled by an unknown scrapbook enthusiast.  The eccentric arrangement of the contents calls to question what the overall theme or motive of the scrapbook may be.  If anyone has any ideas, please do let us know!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Human Trafficking in Early America Conference

James Fuller Queen. The Parting: "Buy us too". Philadelphia, 1863. Chromolithograph. 

On Thursday, April 23, the Library Company will host the keynote address for a conference titled "Human Trafficking in Early America," co-sponsored with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Drew University.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the act of "recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them." In early America, human trafficking took many forms, engaging and displacing Native, African, and European populations in every decade and in every colony and state. Drawing upon a wave of new scholarship on Indian captivity, the Middle Passage, the domestic slave trade, child abduction, and sex trafficking, this conference offers a timely opportunity to examine the cultures and shadow economies created by and elaborated around forced migration in North America and the Atlantic world before 1865.

The conference will take place Thursday, April 23 - Saturday, April 25, with all sessions after the keynote at the University of Pennsylvania's McNeil Center for Early American Studies. For a complete conference schedule and to register, visit the conference website.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Union Library Company of Hatboro



The Union Library Company of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, founded in 1755, is one of the oldest public libraries in America and one of many that imitated the Library Company of Philadelphia in name, mission, and organization. Recently the Board of Directors of the Hatboro Library approved a long-term deposit in the Library Company of Philadelphia of some 325 volumes from their collection. Most of them were published before 1800 and they represent some of their earliest acquisitions and their rarest books. None of them is in the Library Company of Philadelphia, and some cannot be found in any American library.

As part of the deposit agreement, we are cataloging these books in WolfPAC, our online catalog, and the cataloger is Kayla Hohenstein, an Earlham College student working on an internship supervised by the Philadelphia Center, which places interns from a score of Midwestern liberal arts colleges with a wide variety of Philadelphia organizations. When Kayla first interviewed with us, she mentioned that as a high school student she had worked as a volunteer at her local public library, in Hatboro, helping to inventory their historic collection. At that time we did not know when or if the deposit would be approved, but by sheer luck it was approved and the books were transferred here just in time for her to complete the project she began four years ago. Here is a blog post that Kayla wrote about her work with the Hatboro Union Library rare books:

In the summer of 2011, at the recommendation of a friend, I applied to work for The Union Library of Hatboro, and went on to assist in cataloging a part of their collection of books and periodicals from the 17th through 19th centuries. Prior to my experience, I was uninformed of The Union Library’s historical significance of being one of the oldest public libraries in the United States, and soon learned of the nature of work that went into caring for and maintaining a fragile and precious collection of this kind.

On my very first day, I was told to come prepared and I remember showing up in my jeans and t-shirt, anticipating the wonder that awaited me. Walking into the library’s main reading room, I looked up at the books that rested on the shelves that lined the walls of the second floor balcony. I had never worked with books this old before and was in awe as I started to carefully handle them as they were cataloged. My job was to assign an accession numbers and to create a flag for each book. This involved documenting the titles, authors, and publication details into an excel spreadsheet, as well as reporting on the bindings and conditions of the books. This experience introduced me to some of the texts on various discourses and treatises from its time, as well as some beautiful printed illustrations such as the ones in Godey's Lady Book Magazine. Every day, I got to hold pieces of history that revealed some of the thoughts that were seen as important during these lifetimes, and I got to listen to the voices of this culture that were passionate, informative, playful and provoking.
That summer, I got to work alongside more experienced students who taught me about some of the background and history of the texts. They taught me about some of the basic types of leather, cloth, and marble bindings and I soon found myself identifying numerous stamped leather and cloth bound books that I examined. As time passed each day, I came across books with a wide range of conditions and conservational needs. Some of the books had detached covers and split spines, and I soon became accustomed to coming home with book ash on my jeans, which was common with some of the leather bound books. We tied the books up with spools of cloth tape and placed them back on the shelves, and I never thought that I would be seeing these books any further than their home at The Union Library of Hatboro.
After four years of working on my undergrad in the Midwest, I found myself returning home to Philadelphia in the last semester of my senior year and enrolling in an internship program affiliated with my school. Since my time working with The Union Library's collection, I knew that I wanted to work in a library and learn more about rare books. I decided to apply for a position at The Library Company of Philadelphia for their groundbreaking history as the first American lending library, and soon learned of their correspondence with The Union Library and their agreement to take some of Hatboro's books on deposit. The symbolic nature of this coincidence brought so much meaning into my life as I assisted in transitioning these books into their new home at The Library Company. Being able to help carry the eighteen boxes of books in and shelve them in their permanent home brought these last four years full circle as I got to see my handwriting on a few of the book tags of books that I had contributed to earlier in my academic career. I feel so fortunate to have had that experience at The Union Library, and to now be able to build on my knowledge and experience here at The Library Company. Since working here, I have been touched by the books and people that I get to work with on a daily basis, and it has inspired me to continue my pursuit in learning more about rare books and in working with these collections.

Women’s History Month Lecture


On March 3rd, Cassandra Good spoke about friendship in early America. Dr. Good was a 2009 fellow at the Library Company, and we were exceptionally pleased that she accepted our invitation to deliver the 2015 Davida T. Deutsch Lecture during Women’s History Month. Oxford University Press recently published her book Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic, and the Library Company was one of the repositories that Dr. Good consulted in the course of her research.

After the founding of the new nation, the idea of men and women forming friendships that were voluntary and not based on the traditional social structures was a revolutionary one, among many revolutionary ideas of the period. The Library Company’s printed advice books, friendship albums, and manuscript collections all document a phenomenon that offered opportunities and also risks.

Friendship was an opportunity for men and women who were not in romantic relationships with each other to communicate freely about important topics. In the Rush Family Papers, for example, there is a whole volume of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s letters to Benjamin Rush. It may even be that Eliza Powel’s letter to George Washington was what convinced him not to resign the Presidency.

However, there was an equally significant risk that such relationships could have the appearance of impropriety. Women especially needed to guard their reputations. For example, did Benjamin Franklin run the risk of damaging Georgiana Shipley’s reputation when he sent her a lovely snuffbox with a portrait miniature on it? We were happy to hear that Franklin’s status as a celebrity made the gift socially acceptable, despite the fact that the gift of portrait miniatures usually signified romantic interest!

Snuffbox which Benjamin Franklin gave to Georgiana Shipley in 1779. (Gift of Stuart Karu to the Library Company in 2009)

On your next visit, do take a look at the lovely snuffbox on display in the Logan Room.

Essay on Our Benjamin Bradley Bindings

Book conservator Todd Pattison and Library Company Cataloger Arielle Middleman co-wrote an article on book binder Benjamin Bradley and the cataloging of 19th-century bindings. The article is slated to be published in late 2015 in Volume 3 of Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding. Arielle Middleman previously wrote about the collection of Benjamin Bradley bindings for our Beyond the Reading Room blog, reproduced below:

The Todd & Sharon Pattison Collection of Signed Benjamin Bradley Bindings has been my first project as a rare book cataloger at the Library Company of Philadelphia. As a relative newcomer to the world of cataloging, I feel fortunate to cut my teeth on such an interesting and gorgeous set of publishers’ bindings.


The cloths on Bradley-bound books range from stunning ribbon-embossed flowers, vines, fruits, and abstract patterns to plain bookcloth with custom stamping on the covers and spines. Bradley was likely the first binder to advertise on cloth covers, using a special die to stamp his name into many of the books bound in his bindery.

A particularly ornate Bradley-bound book using my favorite of Bradley's bookcloths. This binding features gold blocking on the front cover and spine, and blind blocking on the back cover.
By signing his books, Bradley became known for the decorative elements of his bindings. The visual impact of a Bradley-bound book made him the leading cloth case binder in New England by the end of the 1830s. His ability to bind beautiful, quality books quickly and relatively inexpensively helped develop the acceptance of cloth-bound books, and established the material’s dominance as the chief covering for a variety of printed texts.

B. Bradley Binder stamped on the front cover of Six Months in a Convent.

Bradley owed much of his success to the production of a single book:Six Months in a Convent, or The Narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, published in Boston by Russell, Odiorne & Metcalf in 1835. The book became the first anti-Catholic bestseller in America, with more than 50,000 copies sold in the first year of publication.


Rebecca Theresa Reed was raised Protestant in Charlestown, Massachusetts, but converted to Catholicism in 1831 at the age of nineteen. She entered an Ursuline convent in her hometown that same year.  According to her account, Reed suffered and was witness to cruel treatment within the walls of Mount Benedict convent, forcing her to escape and return to her Protestant family and beliefs after only six months in residence.
Six Months in a Convent bound in plain bookcloth.

The introduction to Six Months compares the effect of Reed’s account to Martin Luther’s call for Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church in 1520. Though this comparison seems extreme, Reed’s account certainly made waves both locally and internationally. In 1834, two years after Reed’s departure, a mob set fire to Mount Benedict convent, burning it to the ground. Reed’s account would not be published for another year, but her narrative had already become quite public within her community. The Ursulines directly blamed Reed for the attack on the convent, and claimed the description of her time at Mount Benedict to be absolute fiction.
Six Months in a Convent showing variance in bookcloth color.

Obviously, Six Months in a Convent had a much more positive effect on Bradley’s bindery. For Bradley to have produced over 50,000 copies of Six Months less than two years after the 1833 fire that destroyed nearly all his machines and tools is remarkable to say the least. To offset the losses caused by the fire, Bradley was forced to rethink his methods in order to stay in business. By breaking the binding process down into specific steps to be performed by unskilled workers, Bradley was able to sidestep the traditionally long apprenticeship required for bookbinders, and create an assembly-line process for manufacturing.  Six Months in a Convent is evidence of this revolutionary approach to bookbinding.

Most copies of Six Months in a Convent feature the same ornamental stamping shown in the images above. This copy features Bradley's lyre stamped on the front cover.



Whether Rebecca Reed’s narrative is founded in fact or fiction is not for me to say. However, it is undeniable that the production of this one book made it possible for Benjamin Bradley’s business not only to continue, but to flourish.