Friday, September 30, 2011

New Partnership with University of Georgia Press

In a significant enhancement to the Program in African American History, the Library Company has formed a partnership with the University of Georgia Press to support Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900, a series of books focused on racial aspects of transatlantic history. The first book under the new partnership will be Eva Sheppard Wolf's Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia, to be published in spring 2012. African American History Program Director Erica Dunbar, who will serve on the editorial advisory board for the series, believes that "this partnership provides a critical platform for disseminating the research that will be conducted at the Library Company by our Fellows, and we are very pleased to be associated with such a distinguished press and well-established series."

The Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900 series was created by the University of Georgia Press in 2006 and is edited by Richard Newman, Patrick Rael, and Manisha Sinha. Nine books already have been published in the series, including work by established authors such as Philip Morgan, Marcus Wood, Afua Cooper, and Vincent Carretta. The series also has featured first books by an international cohort of emerging scholars including Gale Kenny, Jeannette Jones, and Mischa Honeck.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

LCP Acquires Rare Reason Letterhead

The Library Company has just purchased at auction a piece of letterhead engraved by Patrick Henry Reason, one of a very small number of commercially successful African American engravers. The stationery pictures the figure of a kneeling female slave and is captioned “Engraved by P. Reason, A Colored Young Man of the City of New York, 1835.” It is an example of letterhead -- once common, but today very rare -- produced by the American Antislavery Society .  

The letter the stationery was used for is a largely misspelled antislavery screed addressed to South Carolina slaveholder S. J. Houlk condemning him for brutal cruelty, and ending with the admonition “Let the slave go free an y can do you work yourself.”

Born in New York to free black parents who emigrated from the French West Indies, Reason attended the New York African Free School, where his artistic talents were nurtured.  In 1833 he was apprenticed to a New York engraver, and his professional career, which ultimately spanned six decades, took off shortly thereafter. Reason’s first published work was an engraving of his school, appearing as a frontispiece to Charles C. Andrews’ History of the New-York African Free Schools (New York, 1830). Abolitionists were major supporters of the African Free Schools and Reason enjoyed abolitionist patronage early in his career, beginning in 1830s, which enabled him to produce our newest addition to the Afro-Americana collections.

Reason later turned his attention to portraiture, and we hold a half- dozen examples from books and periodicals, including portraits of British abolitionist Granville Sharp, fugitive slaves James Williams and Henry Bibb, Ohio Congressman Benjamin Tappan, c lergyman Robert Adrain, and American statesman George Mifflin Dallas. Reason returned to allegory in 1839, with his antislavery engraving “The Truth Shall Make You Free” appearing as the frontispiece to the abolitionist annual The Liberty Bell (and reproduced on the cover of our 1994 publication The Abolitionist Sisterhood).  Reason also has a local family connection; his brother Charles (also an African Free School alumnus and a mathematician) was for several years head of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth, the most notable academic institution for African Americans in antebellum America.

We’re delighted to have Reason’s early effort added to our collection, especially as we have never before seen one on the market. We remain eager to acquire other examples of his work.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Travelling Librarian Visits the Library Company

Each year the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals bestows the English Speaking Union’s Travelling Librarian Award on a librarian in the UK to support travel to libraries and archives in the United States for the purpose of promoting and developing links between libraries in the two countries. This year’s recipient is Jane Rawson, Librarian at the Vere Harmsworth Library in the Rothermere American Institute, one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford. She paid a visit last month to the Library Company and had some compelling insights about the distinctive nature of this institution. 

As the Librarian for Oxford’s principal research library for the history of the United States, Rawson wanted to learn more about the Library Company’s collections and how researchers are able to access them, both on site and remotely.  Summing up the impressions from her visit on September 23 on her blog (, Rawson described the stacks as a “veritable treasure trove,” saying “I don't think I've ever seen quite so many antiquarian books in one place before, and the wonders just kept on coming.…There were amazing 19th -century bindings, boxes and boxes of broadsides, and even, most randomly, a mummy's hand! I could have happily spent hours in there, and it was a wonderful introduction to the scope of their collections.”

Rawson further believes that the way the Library Company understands itself is distinct from the other American libraries she had visited on her trip up to that point:  “T he context provided by the library as a whole is very important; the collection is almost more important than the individual items.”  She spoke about the Library Company’s role in acquiring and housing older volumes discarded by other libraries that have importance for the social history of the book.  Ultimately, she wrote,

The Library Company felt in some ways more familiar and closer to my library and home institution, with their fellowship programs and the way their collections have grown often in relation to those fellows' interests. I was also left with a real sense of the historical aspect of the library as a total entity, and here, the importance of the container and the context, not just the content.

While here, Rawson shared information about the US History collections in Oxford and discussed the needs of that university’s students and researchers, many of whom travel to the United States to visit libraries and archives. One of her goals upon her return to the UK will be to disseminate the knowledge that she has gained via reports, guides, presentations and blog posts, so that the trip will have wider benefits for the field of US Studies the UK.

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