Thursday, February 14, 2013

LCP Conservator Publishes Landmark Essay on Papier-Mâché Bindings

Affection's gift :A Christmas, New-Year, and Birth-day Present.
New York: Leavitt & Allen, [between 1852 and 1855?] 19 cm.
Little scholarly attention was given to papier-mâché bindings before Chief of Conservation Jennifer Rosner began researching the topic in May 2011. Largely through generous donations from Michael Zinman, the Library Company has amassed arguably the best collection in the world of these ornately decorated bindings, which enjoyed popularity between 1849 and 1856. Ms. Rosner has now contributed an essay based on her research to Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, vol. 1., just published by the Legacy Press.
Ms. Rosner’s chapter “Papier-Mâché Bindings: Shining in Black and Gorgeous with Pearl and Gold” traces the development of this type of binding in association with other decorative arts of the period. Papier-mâché products were so popular that entire factories in the United States were devoted to their production, and Birmingham, England, became the center of a large industry. Household items such as women’s dressing cases and writing desks and larger items such as interior panels for steamships and piano cases were made with papier- mâché.
Memory. New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1854 (Zinman deposit)
Papier-mâché bindings were one of several binding styles used in the production of gift books, though it was the most expensive. Adorned with mother-of-pearl, gold, and painted embellishments, these “annuals” or “keepsakes” were usually purchased as birthday and holiday presents or associated with courtship. While initially extremely profitable to publishers, gift books fell out of favor as readers grew tired of the same content, and, with changing tastes, papier-mâché bindings were increasingly perceived as gaudy and old-fashioned.
The editor of Suave Mechanicals Julia Miller was the first Library Company Fellow to study bookbinding in fall 2010. In addition to serving as editor, she also contributed an essay on scaleboard bindings. Both Ms. Rosner and Ms. Miller mention and include illustrations of many books from the Library Company’s collections in their essays.

Walk the History of Abolition with the Library Company and Lokadot

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1829), W.L. Breton.

The Library Company has unveiled an audio walking tour featuring 15 important sites in the history of the Abolition movement in Philadelphia. Our partnership with Philadelphia-based start-up Lokadot, which offers free, crowd-sourced audio content through an app for iPhone, has enabled us to share historic images and vignettes at sites throughout the city. In addition to Abolition “dots,” historical Library Company landmarks are also marked with audio files. Look for these clips and more to come at

When the app is turned on, Lokadot launches an audio file each time the user approaches its associated location. Alternatively, users may peruse an interactive map of Philadelphia overlaid with icons representing associated audio files. Finally, users may view “galleries” of files contributed by individual sources on a web browser or a mobile device—so all of the Library Company’s content on Lokadot may be perused at

The Abolition Walking Tour was written by Professor Rich Newman, based on the actual tour he has given to participants of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar. The 15 stops on the tour document the extensive historical record of Abolitionist activity in Philadelphia and extend throughout the city. Sites include Mother Bethel AME Church, the James Forten House, the President’s House, and the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society Office.

To round out the presentation for our users, the Library Company has also compiled a smaller tour of buildings that have housed our historic collections over time. Starting with our first separate structure at 5th and Chestnut, the tour takes walkers to the Ridgway Library (now the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts), built under the terms of a magnificent bequest by James Rush and housing the Library Company for almost a century; the modern Library Company building at 1314 Locust Street; and the neighboring Cassatt House, designed in the 1880s by the subject of our current exhibition, Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.

Domestic Scenes of Famous Men

Augustus L. Weise. General Grant and His Family (Philadelphia: Joseph Hoover, 1866). Hand-colored lithograph. Purchased with funds from the Davida T. Deutsch Women’s History Fund.

Currently on display at the entrance to the Reading Room is a small exhibition entitled “’And His Family’: Prints Depicting Famous Men at Home.” In the years directly after the Civil War, with wartime animosities still fresh in the nation’s consciousness, prints depicting famous men with their families and stressing harmonious domestic life enjoyed a particular vogue. This year we are making a special effort to acquire such prints, courtesy of the Davida T. Deutsch Women’s History Fund, and have assembled some highlights featuring Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln as family men.

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, printmakers published many prints depicting him either separately or with members of his family.  In an engraving by painter Frederic Schell included in the exhibition, a scene of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and their son Tad copied from a well-known photograph is embellished with a portrait of “Willie,” the Lincolns’ son who died at the age of eleven in 1862.

In the same years at least five different artists depicted Ulysses S. Grant with his wife Julia and their four children—often in domestic settings similar to those in which the Lincoln family was represented. Portraying Grant thus, after numerous other portraits had shown him as a Union general, may have helped elect him president in 1868. Also politically useful (with many Southerners and Northern Copperheads) was the fact that his wife Julia’s father had owned slaves in her native Missouri. But artists probably found depicting Julia Grant a challenge because she was cross-eyed; they almost always showed her face in profile.

“And His Family” will be on view until May 2013.

75 Years at the Library Company!

We are widely known for the long tenures of our personnel, but this month three members of the senior staff are celebrating particularly noteworthy anniversaries. Librarian James Green will celebrate 30 years at the Library Company on the 22nd of February, having arrived in Philadelphia in 1983 to take on the position of Curator of Printed Books. However, Mr. Green maintains that he had had his heart set on joining the staff since a 1976 visit to the Library Company as a student in the master’s program in Library Science at Columbia University. When he heard then Librarian Edwin Wolf explain why the Library Company was the best representation anywhere in the world of early American book culture, he knew that this was where he wanted to be.

James Green, Al Dallasta, and Sarah Weatherwax have worked at the Library Company for 30, 25, and 20 years, respectively. 

Chief of Maintenance and Security Al Dallasta, who celebrated his 25th anniversary with the Library Company on February 8, handles all the facilities needs of our growing campus. Most recently, Al supervised the conversion from the City steam loop to in-house boilers that involved closing Locust Street and hoisting heavy equipment up to the eighth floor with a crane, yet another in a long line of examples of the ways Al has helped control expenses at the Library Company through his diligent oversight. And Curator of Prints and Photographs Sarah Weatherwax, who holds a master’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary, logged 20 years at the Library Company on January 19. In the 18 years that she’s headed up the Print Department, she’s overseen substantial growth of the collections and a significant increase in digitization.

We congratulate each on their milestones—and congratulate ourselves on having such dedicated colleagues!

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