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.

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