Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Closer Look at Fashioning Philadelphia

The current exhibition, “Fashioning Philadelphia: The Style of the City, 1720-1940,” curated by Wendy Woloson uses the Library Company’s extensive collections of prints, photographs, books, pamphlets, trade cards, and artifacts to tell the largely unexplored story of Philadelphia’s contribution to the fashion trades over three centuries.



As the location of the Continental Congress and the nation’s first capital, 18th-century Philadelphia hosted many trend-setters, who knew that what they wore was as important as what they said. This was true whether representatives dressed in clothing made of luxurious fabrics imported from overseas, or in patriotic homespun, made entirely from domestically-produced materials. Benjamin Franklin can perhaps be considered Philadelphia’s “first fashionista.” Several of his portraits, which show him in his rustic mode – in spectacles and fur hat, and without a wig –  can be seen in the exhibition.

Until the late 19th century Philadelphia was the country’s most cosmopolitan city. Not only was it the country’s most active port, but it also supported diverse cultures and communities whose personal styles helped shape larger fashion trends. The city was home to the largest population of free African Americans, rising classes of skilled and unskilled tradesmen, and generations of Quakers. Cut paper silhouettes, daguerreotype portraits, and lithographic renderings of these and other groups are on display.




Philadelphia’s central place as an important trend-setter was nowhere more evident than on Chestnut Street, renowned as one of the most fashionable retail corridors in the world. Casual travelers and style mavens alike remarked on the thoroughfare’s grandness, elegance, and exclusivity, likening it to the shopping districts of Paris, London, and Milan. People flocked there to “promenade” – to see and be seen – as illustrated in the many scenes of Chestnut Street in the show. One observer at the time noted the “thronging of well-dressed people, and the unexpected splendour of the shops – large stores shewing [sic] a long vista of elegant counters, shelving, and glass-cases. . . stocked with the most costly articles of luxury.”

The city was not merely a consumer of the latest and most fashionable goods, but an important producer of fashion as well: Philadelphia’s industrial might rivaled the factories in New England. Countless numbers of weavers, spinners, dyers, and tailors who settled in Philadelphia brought their skills with them when they immigrated from Europe. The water-powered mills of Manayunk wove some of the finest textiles. The city’s merchant tailors – some of whose innovating patterning systems are included in the exhibition – helped men dress for success; and French milliners outfitted upper-class women in the finest dresses and hats. The city’s many tanneries, set along the banks of the Schuylkill River, processed hundreds of thousands of pounds of leather a year, producing raw material that would make everything from the most durable of coach bags to the most luxurious kid leather shoes.

The Frankford and Kensington sections of the city supported innumerable light industries that also contributed to the fashion trades. Wireworks, iron processors, light metal shops, and carvers made constituent parts for fashion items as diverse as hoop skirts and umbrellas. John B. Stetson’s landmark factory was situated in the heart of Philadelphia, and at is peak in the early 20th century was producing some 2 million hats per year. Visitors to the exhibition are able to see a Stetson top hat along with its custom-made leather case.

Philadelphia was not just an important industrial hub, but a center for printing and publishing as well. As such, it was the place where several important fashion magazines, such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, were launched. These publications disseminated the latest trends far and wide and helped spark the consumer revolution. Examples on display show how these magazines, in their drive to produce color fashion plates more cost-effectively, also spurred important innovations in printing technologies.
In addition to the city’s taste-makers and manufacturers Philadelphia’s retailers also played an important role in shaping the American fashion industry by bringing the latest and most stylish goods to market. Retail visionaries like John Wanamaker, Justus Strawbridge, and Isaac Clothier remain well-known names, even though their flagship stores closed years ago. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a wool pinstripe suit, on loan from Library Company member Walton C. Burwell, whose father purchased it from Wanamaker’s in the 1930s.



All of these stories, and more, are told in “Fashioning Philadelphia: The Style of the City, 1720-1940,” which is on display until March 4, 2016, and can be see for free during the Library Company’s operating hours.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rev. W.F. Johnson: Blind Phrenologist, Abolitionist, and Picture Show Lecturer

This article originally appeared on the blog for the  Library Company's upcoming exhibition Common Touch. Curated by Teresa Jaynes, the exhibition uses historical embossed and raised-letter documents for the visually impaired as a starting point to explore the nature of perception. Common Touch has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and will be on display at the Library Company April 4 -October 21,2016.


The Library Company has several collecting strengths and many often intersect and intertwine as in the case of this handbill advertising a circa 1853 picture show presented by the blind African American abolitionist, professor, and minister William F. Johnson. Pertinent to our African American history, visual culture, and disability studies collections, the print represents the career of a man whose profession was comprised of intertwined roles of educator, abolitionist, and phrenologist.

Born free in Baltimore, Maryland in 1822 and blind from a young age, Johnson is most remembered for his revered position as Superintendent of the Brooklyn Colored Howard Orphan Asylum from 1870 to his death in 1903. His earlier career as a lecturer, typically using a camera obscura to provide an illustrated presentation, is often overshadowed by his later calling.

Camera Obscura! [United States, ca. 1853]. Printed handbill. 11.5 x 5 in.
Before movie theaters, camera obscura rooms provided a similar visual experience. Composed of a darkened room in which a light was shown through illustrated glass plates, the camera allowed for the images on the plate to be reproduced in color on an inside wall. During the 1850s Johnson not only informed his audience with an exhibition of paintings of “fifteen scenes, illustrative of some of the features of the American Institution of Slavery,” but also created a verbal picture “without reference to Party or Politics.” to deepen the understanding of their context for their viewers.

By promoting the non-partisanship of his exhibition, Johnson marketed his presentation to a diverse crowd that would likely not have attended his lecture if advertised more stridently. People curious to see a blind man lecture on illustrations, which he himself could not physically see, certainly comprised a segment of the audience. Enticed by the spectacle of Johnson, the curious there less to learn about the life of a slave and more to see Johnson, still received a visual, and more resonant, lesson of the injustices of slavery.

Audience members also typically partook of Johnson’s skills as a phrenologist. Phrenology, a pseudoscience that linked bumps on a person’s head to certain aspects of the individual’s personality, character, and mental capacity, had not only been taught at Johnson’s alma mater the New York Institute for the Blind, but also at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Massachusetts. Based on touch, phrenology allowed Johnson, an African American man who was blind and likely educated through his fingers, to educate his audience, in a poignant manner, about their personal identity as well as their character in a society that permitted slavery.

Although absent itself of much illustration, this handbill provides a picture of the man, the culture, and the society that fostered its production. The printed sheet implies Johnson’s savvy understanding of the visual and popular culture of his time to facilitate his mission to end slavery through the power of sight and touch.

A call to our members! Please share your WWI stories.

James Montgomery Flagg, I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.



In the Fall of 2016, the Library Company will mount an exhibition relating the story of how World War One impacted the Library Company—its operations, staff, board, and shareholders—within the larger story of Philadelphia in the war.

Curators Sarah Weatherwax and Linda August are currently conducting research for this exhibit and are interested in learning more about Philadelphians during the War.

We would love to hear from our members who had family, especially if they were Library Company shareholders, in Philadelphia during that time who served in the military or on the homefront, volunteering in the many organizations aiding the war effort, fundraising for liberty bonds, growing liberty gardens or preserving food, etc.

If you would like to share your stories, contact us by emailing: printroom@librarycompany.org, laugust@librarycompany.org, or calling 215 546-3181.

Please do not send material without speaking with us first.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Unveiling the "Library Company Madeira"

1869 Photograph by John Moran of the Physick House, which was originally owned by Madeira merchant Henry Hill.


When Ben Franklin founded the Library Company in 1731, Madeira was already the rage in Philadelphia. As the favored drink of America’s elite in the eighteenth century, Madeira helped to establish a wealthy mercantile class that included many Library Company members. To honor this history, The Rare Wine Co. will produce a special Library Company Madeira, which will be unveiled on Saturday, October 17 at the Library Company.

The unveiling and celebration will include a wine tasting, a symposium, and a mini Madeira exhibition. Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co., and Ricardo Freitas, Managing Director of one of Madeira’s most important houses, Vinhos Barbeito, will lead the tasting, which will feature Madeiras from The Rare Wine Co.including the new Library Company bottling—and appropriate cheeses, dried fruits, and nuts. For the symposium portion of the program, Mannie Berk and Ricardo Freitas will talk about the development of Madeira importing and connoisseurship, and Library Company Trustee Emeritus and historian David Maxey will discuss Madeira merchant Henry Hill. The Madeira exhibition will bring together objects from the Library Company's collection and the private collection of Mannie Berk.

The program will take place at the Library Company on Saturday, October 17 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. Tickets are $25 for Library Company members and $35 for non-members. The Madeira exhibition will be on view at the Library Company from October 15 - November 15, 2015. For more information about this event, contact Alison McMenamin at amcmenamin@librarycompany.org or call 215-546-3181.

A 19th-Century Philadelphian in Rome


Catalogue of the Museo Torlonia (1876) and detail from p. 78.

The papal visit to Philadelphia reminded us of the Library Company’s extensive Anne Hampton Brewster Collection. Miss Brewster (1819-1892) left her books and personal papers to the Library Company as a bequest. She converted to Catholicism at age 30, while still living in Philadelphia. Eventually she settled in Rome. As part of her work as a foreign correspondent for American newspapers, she carefully negotiated relations with papal leaders.

A lifelong student of Italian history, culture, and especially art, Brewster had wide-ranging interests. Consequently, the research-potential of the Brewster Collection is also wide-ranging. For example, earlier this month, former fellow Dr. Etta Madden spoke in Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany, on Brewster’s professional labors there in 1873 and her relationship with Rodolfo Lanciani, a key figure in the excavation of Roman sites after the unification of Italy. Late that summer Brewster wrote accounts of the region for the Boston Daily Advertiser and translated one of Lanciani’s books.

During her fellowship, Dr. Madden brought our attention to the many annotations in the books in Brewster’s library. Shown here is Brewster’s copy of the guide to the Museo Torlonia, the Torlonia family’s collection of classical antiquities. The Torlonias worked closely with the Vatican, and even today members of the family have hereditary honors at the Vatican. Dr. Madden has noted that Brewster’s article on the museum appeared in Blackwood's (July 1879). Previously one of her newspaper articles had appeared describing a visit to the museum: “I went . . . one beautiful May afternoon, and spent more than three hours, looking, making notes, and taking in impressions so rapidly that I grew giddy” (Boston Daily Advertiser, June 19, 1877).

We deciphered the marginal note shown here: “The figures [on a fragment of a candlestick] are exquisite – one with head thrown back especially – the form is deliciously modelled.” Brewster presumably wrote that annotation on the beautiful May afternoon she described for Boston readers. We hope further study will bring more attention to Brewster’s role in the dissemination of information on Italy, Italian culture, and art appreciation to English speakers during this significant period in Italian history.

“That’s So Gay” (the online version) – Launched

Trade card showing influence of Oscar Wilde’s 1882 tour of North America.

This month, we transformed the 2014 exhibition “That’s So Gay: Outing Early America” into an online resource: www.gayatlcp.org. We’ll be counting the hits on the website in October (LGBT History Month). Please help us boost the numbers. Hint: Sharing it with your friends online would be a great way to celebrate Oscar Wilde’s birthday on October 16.

The project began in November 2012, when representatives from the William Way LGBT Community Center approached the Library Company as a possible venue for an exhibition on Philadelphia gay rights activism, 1965-2015. Since the Library Company’s collections don’t support that topic, we offered to do the prequel instead, and thus “That’s So Gay” was born.

Also, do consider stopping by the National Constitution Center to see “Speaking Out for Equality, 1965-2015,” which is on view through January 3, 2016.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940



The Library Company of Philadelphia presents over 200 years of fashion history in its newest exhibition, which opened July 20. Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940 tells the largely unheralded story of Philadelphia’s contributions to the early fashion industry. Curated by Wendy Woloson (Assistant Professor of History, Rutgers University), Fashioning Philadelphia features prints, photographs, books, ephemera, and artifacts from the Library Company's premier collection of historical materials. The exhibition is on view through March 4, 2016.

The exhibition highlights Philadelphia's many important contributions to making clothing and shaping style over two centuries, which have largely been forgotten today. Home to modest Quakers, prosperous free blacks, well-heeled international transplants, and working classes of all sorts, Philadelphia was America's most cosmopolitan city from the late 18th through the 19th century. Chestnut Street in particular enjoyed a reputation for being as fashionable as the grand thoroughfares of Paris and London. In addition, Philadelphia was a manufacturing powerhouse that supported industries producing textiles, leather goods, and accessories. The city was also a major publishing center – women's magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book helped shape popular fashions and then disseminate them throughout the country. Philadelphia retailers, including Wanamaker and Strawbridge & Clothier, erected lavish department stores – dream palaces of consumption – in the heart of the city.

To tell this particular story, Fashioning Philadelphia draws on the Library Company's rich collections of historical materials. Among many other items, it includes several portraits of Benjamin Franklin ("Philadelphia's first fashionista"), hand-colored fashion plates showing men and women wearing the latest styles, tailoring patterns, contemporary views of Chestnut Street, interior views of the Stetson hat factory, architectural renderings of major department stores, and small artifacts such as 19th-century sunglasses and ladies' boots.

By showing depictions of Philadelphians from all walks of life, from prosperous free African Americans to the laboring poor, gang members to Quakers, the exhibition also presents a social history of the city, and of urban America in general, as it changed over two centuries.



Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940 is free and open to the public, July 20, 2015 – March 4, 2016, Monday - Friday, 9 am to 4:45 pm. The exhibition and its accompanying programming are supported by funds from the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.  For the latest events associated with this exhibition, visit librarycompany.org/events.

2015 Juneteenth Freedom Symposium with Dr. Danielle Allen



The Program in African American History (PAAH) welcomed political theorist Dr. Danielle Allen for our annual Juneteenth Freedom Symposium on June 18. PAAH hosts an annual symposium to recognize Juneteenth, one of the oldest known celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. This year’s theme focused on the enduring importance of democratic ideals to confront the social justice challenges of our time.

Allen, who recently joined Harvard University as the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and a professor in the Department of Government, spoke about her award-winning book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Norton, 2014). The book was inspired by close readings and discussions of the Declaration of Independence in courses that she taught separately to working-class adult students and University of Chicago undergraduates.

Allen reminded the audience of the novel and subversive concepts enshrined in the Declaration, including the less studied sentiment: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e. safeguarding unalienable rights], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government … to effect their Safety and Happiness.”



Thus, Allen argued that the Declaration empowers Americans to create a government and political system that will address civil rights issues. Prime among these in the present day is the mass incarceration of African Americans. Allen also presented troubling statistics which demonstrated that African American children begin facing disproportionate rates of suspension in pre-school. These numbers reveal how “destructive” the current form of government is by denying black children their unalienable rights and setting them on a disenfranchised path to prison. Allen posited that the radical spirit of the Declaration provides the basis for altering our discriminatory criminal justice system through revolutionary measures. Allen offered one further thought for consideration: decriminalizing non-violent drug offenses. 

Mellon Scholars Summer Programs

Kimberly Jones, Jalyn Gordon, Shayne McGregor, Ariel Greenaway, Joshua Johnson, Dominique Washington, Hannah Wallace

In June, the Program in African American History (PAAH) held its second annual Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop under the direction of Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, PAAH Director, and Krystal Appiah, Curator of African American History. These summer programs foster and support students from underrepresented backgrounds and others with interests in pursuing graduate study in African American history prior to 1900. Michael Dickinson, an advanced history doctoral student at the University of Delaware, served as Graduate Research Advisor, providing guidance on research methodologies and writing skills.

Four students—Jalyn Gordon (University of Houston), Joshua Johnson (Francis Marion University), Hannah Wallace (Temple University), and Dominique Washington (University of Houston)—were selected to participate in a month-long research internship. Using items from the Library Company’s African Americana Collection, interns created a small exhibit based on themes from Dr. Danielle Allen’s book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality for our Juneteenth event.

Interns also immersed themselves in the African Americana Collection to develop individual research projects leading to a 20-page paper and colloquium presentation of their conclusions. Research topics included activism in Philadelphia's early black churches, an examination of the rhetoric used by African American activists to argue for liberty and equality, Northern African American perceptions of Haiti during its first few decades of independence, and debates surrounding black emigration and colonization.

Dr. Kimberly Saunders leading a professional development session

During their third week in residence, the interns were joined by three more students—Ariel Greenaway (Kennesaw State University), Kimberly Jones (Eastern Illinois University) Shayne McGregor (City University of New York)—for an intensive weeklong professional development workshop. The students attended sessions on graduate school selection, personal statement writing, and curriculum vitae development led by Dr. Kimberly Saunders, director of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Delaware, while the Library Company’s James Green shed light on the fellowship application process. The workshop week also featured a number of presentations on African American history by notable scholars, including Dr. Dunbar, Library Company Director Dr. Richard Newman, and George Washington University history professor Dr. Maurice Jackson. Rounding out the workshop week were educational trips to the historical resources at Temple University's Blockson Afro-American Collection, Mother Bethel AME Church, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Jalyn Gordon at the Blockson Collection

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 cataloged and the entire book was recently digitized.  Thanks to the assistance 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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2nd Annual Library Company Lecture in Honor of John Van Horne

On April 8, Library Company members will gather at the Union League of Philadelphia for the 2nd Annual Library Company Lecture in Honor of John Van Horne. The annual series honors the former Library Company director who served for over 29 years at the helm of the organization. This year’s speaker will be historian Margaret MacMillan whose recent book The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 was written to coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War I.



John Van Horne served as the chief executive officer of the Library Company from 1985 to 2014. During his tenure, he established a Research Fellowship Program for doctoral candidates and senior scholars, oversaw the automation of the library’s catalogs, and expanded the physical plant with the renovation of the Cassatt House. He has published more than a dozen articles and has edited or co-edited numerous books, including several volumes of The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, an edition of the journals, correspondence, and drawings of the great early American architect and engineer published by Yale University Press. Dr. Van Horne has been President of the Independent Research Libraries Association and has served on the boards of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and the National Humanities Alliance. He is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Antiquarian Society.

Margaret MacMillan is one of the world’s leading authorities on World War One. She is the Warden of St Antony’s College and a professor of international history at the University of Oxford. Her books include Women of the Raj (1988, 2007); Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (2001) for which she was the first woman to win the Samuel Johnson Prize; Nixon in China: Six Days that Changed the WorldThe Uses and Abuses of History (2008); and Extraordinary Canadians: Stephen Leacock (2009). Her most recent book is The War that Ended Peace. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Senior Fellow of Massey College, University of Toronto, Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Toronto and of St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, and sits on the boards of the Mosaic Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and the editorial boards of International History and First World War Studies. She also sits on the Advisory Board Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and is a Trustee of the Rhodes Trust.

She has honorary degrees from the University of King’s College, the Royal Military College, The University of Western Ontario, Ryerson University, Toronto and Huron University College of the University of Western Ontario. In 2006 Professor MacMillan was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Save the date for this special celebration. Library Company members will receive a printed invitation with more details shortly. We hope to see you there!

Teacher's Guide to The Genius of Freedom

Although exhibitions rotate through our Louise Lux-Sions and Harry Sions Gallery, many find new lives as online exhibitions. K-12 teachers reference and utilize these online resources, and to encourage further classroom use, we are creating a teacher’s guide for our current exhibition The Genius of Freedom: Northern Black Activism and Uplift after the Civil War.  




The guide will make selected items from the exhibition available to teachers to incorporate into their lessons. We have assembled a team of master teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels who are developing engaging, standards-based lessons inspired by the rich mix of artworks, documents, and books that comprise The Genius of Freedom.

Amy Cohen, who incorporated Library Company materials into Temple University’s recently released study guide for Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, serves as the initiative’s project manager. Cohen,  Director of Education at the documentary film company History Making Productions, brings twenty years of experience as a social studies teacher to the project.


Our hope is that educators in and beyond Philadelphia will use the teacher’s guide as a way to focus students’ attention on African American in the North following the Civil War – a much overlooked topic. If you know a teacher who might benefit from this resources, please spread the word!

Library Company Shows Off its German-American Folk Art

Dieses Neue Gesang buch…..Watercolor and ink, Probably Bedminster Township, Bucks County, PA, ca. 1830.

As part of Philadelphia’s three-month long celebration Framing Fraktur, the Library Company has a small selection of our printed and manuscript fraktur on exhibition through May 22, 2015. From birth certificates to bookplates, these gems of folk art illuminate the German-American experience in early America. Other holdings from our German-Americana collections are showcased. Pennsylvania German liturgical bindings are on display to tell the story of Chief of Conservation Jennifer Rosner’s effort to create an historic model of these unique bindings.

Framing Fraktur, a city-wide initiative, will feature exhibitions at area institutions, workshops, and lectures. "Fraktur and the Everyday Lives of Germans in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic World, 1683-1850," a symposium sponsored by the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, will be held March 5-7, 2015. For a complete calendar of Framing Fraktur events, please visit: www.freelibrary.org/framingfraktur

Digital Humanities Outreach: Turning Library Records into Data Workshop


One of the hallmarks of the Digital Humanities is collaborative education and outreach. The Library Company continues to work with digital managers and support staff among area colleges, cultural organizations and museums. This past December LCP’s Information Technology manager Nicole Scalessa collaborated with Laurie Allen, Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services at Haverford College, to organize a program entitled “Turning Library Records into Data: A Conversation & Workshop.” Nicole and Laurie called upon their colleagues Doreva Belfiore, Digital Projects Librarian, Temple University; Nabil Kashyap, Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Scholarship, Swarthmore College; and Delphine Khanna, Head of Digital Library Initiatives, Temple University, in planning the workshop at the Cassatt House.

This half-day event invited librarians and archivists to discuss ways to expose their online collections to interpretation and analysis by digital humanities scholars, students, and local hackers, and to make those collections easily mappable.  The workshop began with a session featuring examples of discussion of data-sharing methods at various librarie and was followed by group discussion about planning and implementation strategies. “What is data?,” "What can we usefully export from our various systems?,” and “Once I’ve opened my data, where should I put it?” were just a few of the questions presenters addressed. Another session focused on using geospatial data to make collection records accessible to a wide array of online users.


The event was attended by nearly 30 participants and marked the first time that a Library Company event was available online via live stream. Comments from this event may be viewed on Twitter at #glamdataphilly, and portions of the broadcast will be published on our YouTube channel in the spring.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Open Saturdays


To celebrate the popularity of our current exhibition “Genius of Freedom:  Northern Black Activism and Uplift after the Civil War” and to make it possible for more people to visit our gallery, the Library Company will be open from 10 am to 3 pm on the last Saturday of the month from February to June. Include the Library Company in your weekend plans on February 28, March 28, April 25, May 30, and June 27 and visit our newest exhibition focused on the strategies of African Americans in the North to claim their proper place in the post-slavery nation following the Civil War. 

Gutekunst Album Gift


In December, the Greer family gave the Library Company an oversized album of 19th century photos taken by Frederick Gutekunst. A native of Germantown, Gutekunst was a celebrated post-bellum photographer whose subjects included Walt Whitman, Thomas Eakins, and Woodrow Wilson.

The Greer album focuses on Gutekunst’s images of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1870s. These pictures magically capture the evolving Pennsylvania landscape during Reconstruction, especially the built environment of bridges, telephone poles, and train stations taking shape across the Quaker State. This gift extends our impressive Gutekunst holdings, which already include 142 stereographs of the Pennsylvania Railroad following the Civil War.

The photographs were in David Greer’s hands for more than two decades before he decided to donate them to Franklin’s library. “This is the right place for them,” he believes. “They will get the proper attention and use here.” The family was pleased with LCP’s plans to digitize the album and make its indelible images easily available online. This, Greer added, would offer a nice tribute to his father, David St. John Greer, a Navy Veteran and Drexel graduate who spent his entire working life on the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

February 28 Teachers Workshop



The Library Company is pleased to partner with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for a teachers workshop that examines African American agency in procuring equal rights and freedom before and after the Civil War. First, teachers will examine Underground Railroad sources at the Historical Society and will then move next door to view “The Genius of Freedom” exhibition at the Library Company.  Throughout the morning, staff of both institutions will facilitate discussions on how to integrate primary sources into the classroom. Lunch, to be accompanied by a keynote address, is included. Teacher materials tied to the PA Core will be offered free of charge, as well as a new poster “Deep Roots, Continuing Legacy: Philadelphia in the Struggle for Civil Rights” produced by History Making Productions. Participants will be eligible for discounts on "The Genius of Freedom" T-shirts.

Saturday, February 28, 2015
9:30 am to 1:00 pm
$15 for nonmembers
$10 for HSP and LCP members, or with voucher from February Created Equal program.
Act 48/CEU Credits Offered


Guide to the Stranger Gets Noticed

When Wendy Woloson, guest curator of the Library Company’s 2012 Capitalism by Gaslight exhibition, selected an 1849 guidebook to Philadelphia’s seamy underbelly—A Guide to the Stranger —to exhibit, she may not have realized how much attention it would get.  
Subtitled Pocket Companion for the Fancy, Containing a List of the Gay Houses and Ladies of Pleasure in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, the guide was intended for men visiting Philadelphia.  It helpfully provides the locations and descriptions of the city’s brothels and rates the prostitutes who work in each. 
Once the exhibition was put on line in September, the Guide was featured in Slate.com’s history blog, the Vault and received recognition on PhillyNow.comPhiladelphia Magazine went so far as to post current photographic views of some of the spicier locations mentioned in the guide.

In December, the Philadelphia Daily News followed up with an interview of Curator of Printed Books Rachel D’Agostino about the Guide, the related items in our collections, and the ways the volume was distributed, understood, and used by contemporaries.  Read the complete text of the article.

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