Friday, November 15, 2013

A Jewel of a Franklin Miniature

In October, Library Company Trustee Davida Deutsch saw a Franklin miniature by French artist Jean Baptiste Weyler (1747-1791) for sale at the Phillip Mould Gallery in London.  One look and she knew we had to acquire it for the Library Company. 

Painted by Weyler in a series of miniatures on enamel he described as a “panthéon iconographique” of famous men whose likenesses he wanted to preserve for posterity, Franklin was the most popular of the series’ subjects. The ¾” high portrait—one of five extant versions—is in a jeweled setting most likely contemporary and commissioned so that the image could be worn as a pendant.  Although the original for the portrait has not been identified, it is thought to have been a pastel from life.  Charles Coleman Sellers thought enough of this painting to feature it as the frontispiece of, and only color illustration in, his 1962 Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture.

This piece went onto the market in 1957 as part of the noteworthy David David-Weill collection of miniatures and enamels and was acquired by Sir Charles Clore. It is in a gold frame with a lacy border of foliage set with enameled urns and a basket dotted with seed pearls, and encircled by a delicate enameled ribbon.  The gorgeous frame—worked front and back—sparkles with its enameled notes in cobalt blue, emerald green, pale blue, and white.

Our prized snuff box set with a Franklin miniature on ivory, the gift of Stuart Karu, is too fragile to exhibit year-round.  The enamel of the Weyler miniature will stand up to exhibition lighting, allowing us to make it a permanent fixture of our art and artifact display.  Having found last year’s standout acquisition—Peter Collinson’s History of London—at the New York Book Fair, Ms. Deutsch has again helped make a spectacular addition to the Library Company’s collection and one that’s sure to be a draw for avid Franklin fans.  Generous contributions from the Trustees have helped us raise most of the $16,000 purchase price and exhibition furniture cost.  With your help we can bring this jewel home to Philadelphia.   

Join the conversation about “That’s So Gay”!

“That’s So Gay: Outing Early America”—an exhibition featuring textual and visual material in the Library Company’s collections that relates to gay history—will open in February 2014. An accompanying blog being launched this month previews the themes of the exhibition and invites participants to join in the fun. The blog is moderated by Don James McLaughlin, a doctoral student in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on homosexuality across the 19th century.

Featured in the exhibition will be the first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), as well as the important third edition with the Calamus poems and the discussion of “adhesive” love.  Also on display will be portraits of the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, with her short hair and cravat, alongside contemporaries’ commentaries on her as “too independent of conventionalities; too masculine in her habits.” Beyond our important and collectible books and prints, “That’s So Gay” shows off the great depth of the Library Company’s collections, which make it possible to embed iconic texts and images in historical context. 

Consider the blog your opportunity to tell us more about items in the exhibition, to ask questions about the further resources in the collection, or to help queer early America by contributing your own material and interpretations related to this too-often-invisible aspect of the  American experience.

Outsulating the Collections

When the Ridgway Building was built in 1965, the cost of fuel was low enough that the architects didn’t think about the need to create a barrier against temperature and moisture.  In 2013, however, the lack of insulation around the building’s five stack floors raises the cost of maintaining ideal temperature and humidity levels substantially.  One of the items on John Van Horne’s to-do list for his last year as Director is to address this inefficiency of the “brutalist” poured-concrete structure. 

However, a study of the feasibility of insulating storage floors three through seven showed that the expense of moving books and shelves would be prohibitive.  Happily, BWA Architects’ Morris Zimmerman devised an innovative and cost-effective way to create thermal and moisture barriers around our rare printed materials; we will begin work this month on the “outsulation” of the storage floors. 

The East and West elevations of the building (the sides of the building above the wall adjoining the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to the East and the Cassatt House to the West), faced in brick and essentially invisible from the street level, will be wrapped with insulation foam and a layer of a glass facing material.  Facing material for the North and South elevation exteriors (the Locust Street front façade and the rear façade) will be designed to mimic the current molded concrete with their signature “mid-century modern” design elements.

The project will also correct a design flaw in the form of windows on the North and South façades of the stack floors.  These window enclosures will be covered over on the inside to improve insulation, reduce harmful light exposure, and moderately increase the number of linear feet of shelving available.  The window exteriors will be replaced with either a solid insulated panel or with high-quality glazing that will replicate the original façade elements. We will additionally install a vapor-retarding membrane on the ceiling of the seventh floor below the penthouse mechanical room. The architects estimate that the work will reduce heating and cooling bills by 15% overall, for an annual cost savings of approximately $30,000.

The work will be undertaken between November 2013 and March 2014 and will be supervised by Library Company Chief of Maintenance Al Dallasta.  The project is made possible by a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a matching grant from the McLean Contributionship.

A Shout-Out to Special Collections

Inspired by the Library Company’s Visual Culture Program, researcher Abby Glogower arrived in the summer of 2012 with only a vague direction for her dissertation topic. Associate Curator of Prints & Photographs Erika Piola’s thoughtful introduction to the collections inspired her to curate “Nurturing Inquiry: Exploring Special Collections Research.” The exhibition examines the objects  in the University of Rochester Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and the related pieces of scholarly writing they helped produce.  Read more in the University of Rochester’s online journal Invisible Culture.

Friday, October 18, 2013

282nd Annual Dinner

On Tuesday, November 19, the Library Company will hold its 282nd Annual Dinner. The event includes a reception at the Wells Fargo History Museum, dinner at the Union League, and a presentation by Michael F. Suarez, S.J., one of the rare book world’s most engaging ambassadors.

Courtesy of Rare Book School

Director of Rare Book School and Honorary Curator of Special Collections at the University of Virginia, Professor Suarez is a formidable force in literary, book, and library studies. He is former president and long-time board member of the Northeast American Society for 18th-Century Studies is the co-editor of The Oxford Companion to the Book and The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume 5, 1695-1830. He has written many articles on various aspects of 18th-century literature, satirical prints, religion, politics, and book history, and won several awards for his poetry, as well as his bibliography and literary criticism.


He holds four master’s degrees (two in English and two in Theology) and a doctorate in English literature from the University of Oxford. Professor Suarez is a former Marshall Scholar and recipient of research fellowships from the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Studies, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. A dynamic and demanding teacher and a passionate and enthusiastic lecturer, Professor Suarez is one of the most articulate advocates of the importance of books and rare book research libraries in the digital age. As Editor in Chief of Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, he is able to put into practice his belief in the essential utility of digital resources—but their ultimate insufficiency for the study of the history of the book.

This year’s event is especially meaningful because it will be John Van Horne’s last Annual Dinner as Director of the Library Company. You can purchase tickets for this event and find information about being an event sponsor by visiting the Annual Dinner event page on our website.

Philadelphia Ephemera Acquired

The Library Company has acquired the Joe Freedman Collection of Philadelphia Ephemera. Compiled over many decades by a distinguished collector with a discerning eye for historical significance, the Freedman Collection comprises nearly 900 pieces of ephemera, prints, manuscripts, and books. Gems from the collection include nearly 100 trade cards dating from the mid-18th to the late-19th century; a portfolio of manuscript maps surveying the early development of South Philadelphia during the 18th century; one of the earliest printed American bills of fare (ca. 1850); and rare bills of lading from the press of Benjamin Franklin (1760 and 1761). Go to our Flickr page for samples from the collection.

Announcing the acquisition at their successful recent ephemera conference, Visual Culture Program co-Directors Erika Piola and Rachel D’Agostino reflected on the importance of this collection to the Program, and to the Library Company’s stature with respect to promoting the research uses of ephemera. “Scholars are making increasingly inspired uses of printed ephemera as historical source material and we are thrilled to be providing leadership to the field. ” The acquisition complements a number of existing collection and research strengths, including women’s history, African American history, philanthropy, Philadelphia urban history, and, particularly, visual culture and early American economic history.

Through a recent ephemera cataloging project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an exhibition, and the “Unmediated History” conference, the Library Company has positioned itself at the forefront of preserving and providing access to historical ephemera collections. Highlights of the ephemera collection can be viewed in the exhibition Remnants of Everyday Life: Historical Ephemera in the Workplace, Street, and Home, on display through December. Whimsical reflections on ephemera by contemporary artists of the Philadelphia Cartoonist Society are also on display in a small accompanying exhibition.

Conference on Colonial Economies

On October 24 and 25, the Library Company will present the 13th Annual Conference of the Program in Early American Economy and Society (PEAES). This year’s topic, “Ligaments: Everyday Connections of Colonial Economies,” focuses on the ways in which ordinary people navigated the economies of local North American places and at the same time traded across the boundaries of empire in the early modern era. Whether a widowed tavernkeeper in Montreal, a merchant in Veracruz, or a stonemason in Charleston, imperial subjects had to know how to make a sale, evaluate forms of money, judge a neighbor’s reliability, and set the value of goods.

Comprising ninety-minute sessions on “Cities on the Rim: Between Oceans and Interiors”; “Commercial Go-Betweens: Captains, Pilots, Chapmen, Outfitters”; “Mitigating Risk, Making the Sale”; “Connective Urban Spaces: Shops, Markets, Streets”; and “Economic Authority of Special Knowledge,” the two-day conference will present work by distinguished scholars, including many past and current PEAES fellows. This year, the conference is being held in conjunction with GlobalPhilly 2013, an exposition celebrating Philadelphia as a world city from September 15 to November 1.  

Each year, the Library Company awards post-doctoral, dissertation, and short-term fellowships through its PEAES program.  PEAES promotes scholarship in and public understanding of the origins and development of the early American economy—broadly conceived to encompass business, finance, commerce, manufacturing, labor, political economy, households and gender, and technology—through these fellowships, a monograph publication series with Johns Hopkins University Press, publication of conference proceedings in scholarly journals, seminars, public programs, and the acquisition, cataloging, and conservation of material. Past PEAES conferences have focused on plantation management in the colonial Chesapeake and women’s economies of early America. For more information about the program for this free, public conference go to the PEAES conference page. To register go to  

Documentary Filmmaker Gives A Gift of Light

Film stills from Thomas Paine: Revolution in America by Rick Feist (Clockwise from top left: Lewis Lapham, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Brooke Gladstone)

Since 2009, the Library Company has been assisting documentary filmmaker Rick Feist with a project entitled Thomas Paine: Revolution in America, which explores the life and writings of Founding Father Thomas Paine. Paine’s revolutionary writings inspired Feist to create a documentary to educate viewers about the contemporary relevance of his ideas. The film includes readings of poignant passages from Paine’s works by prominent individuals, including Lewis Lapham, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Brooke Gladstone, and Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Nicole Joniec assisting Rick Feist with document photography.
Feist has been conducting regular photo shoots at the Library Company to collect images from original editions of Paine’s writings, as well as contemporary illustrations. He is moved by the thought that the imprints from our stacks were read and handled by Library Company members and patrons over the course of almost 250 years since they were first published. Feist says he “hopes that the film can convey a sense of the awesome beauty of these historic pamphlets and newspapers. These words in these very printings changed the world. They are inspiring treasures, particularly in this world of ubiquitous electronic media.”

To thank the Library Company for our role in this project, Feist has generously donated the LED lights he purchased for his shoots. These lights will greatly increase the Library Company’s in-house photographic capabilities.

To follow the film’s progress or learn more about the project, visit:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Collaborative Ephemera Conference Opens Tomorrow

The broad program starts with a reception and tour of the corresponding exhibition Remnants of Everyday Life:Historical Ephemera in the Workplace, Street, and Home on the evening of September 19. Participants will learn more about the Library Company's vast holdings of ephemera from the 18th to the early-20th centuries from curators and VCP co-directors Rachel D’Agostino and Erika Piola. As Ms. D’Agostino explains, “the challenge for us was to bring these collections to the awareness of the public, and to suggest the kinds of discoveries that could be made by a closer examination of them.” With materials ranging from items destined for disposal to collectibles of personal significance to finely printed works, the exhibition explores the history of graphic design, the changing nature of 19th-century leisure activities, and the impact of popular print media and fads on Victorian-era consumerism. 

On Friday, these themes will be further examined by scholars of historical ephemera. Panelists will discuss the artistry involved in the production of trade cards and the assembly of scrapbooks, the creation of institutional collections of ephemera, and the impact of mass photographic production on 19th-century visual and popular culture.

The conference serves as another of the many initiatives by the Ephemera Society of America to raise awareness of this print genre. Founded in 1980, the Society cultivates and encourages interest in ephemera, as well as the history identified with it. The Society’s wide constituency includes collectors, dealers, scholars, and institutions like the Library Company and fellow conference co-sponsor the Print Center. 

Following Friday’s panel discussions, a reception will be held at the Print Center, one of the first venues in the country dedicated to the appreciation of prints. During the reception, attendees will be able to view Ephemeral Sprawl, an exhibition of contemporary printed ephemera inspired by Remnants and Unmediated History and co-curated by the Print Center and Printeresting, “a collaborative art blog and occasional arts producer.” Personal ephemera from the collections of Ms. D’Agostino and Ms. Piola will be on exhibit for the culminating event of the conference. 

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