Monday, December 12, 2011

The Ubiquitous Corrugated Clamshell Box - An Anniversary

Not many people realize that the corrugated clamshell box (as shown above) was actually developed here at the Library Company. As many of you know, these boxes are very useful in rare book libraries because they are an efficient way to protect and contain books that are in poor condition. Back in the 1980s, the conservation staff was making boxes out of folder stock that had long flaps that had to be folded together just right so that they could be closed with a string wound around a plastic button. They were not particularly popular with the rest of the staff. Acid-free corrugated board was still relatively new and conservators were coming up with all kinds of uses for it. Thinking outside the box, so to speak, Conservator Andrea Krupp (with some help from former conservation staff member Lillian Greenberg) came up with the brilliant idea of de-laminating the corrugated board so that the resulting flaps could be glued to create a box. The first prototypes were time-consuming because in order to beautify them the edges were wrapped with marbled paper strips. We soon realized that the beauty of these boxes is their simplicity and also their quick fabrication. Then in 1991, after making the phase boxes for several years, Andrea decided to share the box plans with other conservators and published a short article in the (now defunct) Abby Newsletter. ( To see the article, click here) Conservators had been looking for an easy, fast, and inexpensive container for their collections and the box plans caught on. 

Books in need of boxing.
Books after boxing.
Since 1990 (when we began keeping digital statistics) we have made over 5,000 corrugated clamshell boxes of all sizes at the Library Company. We are still making the same box today, as are many other  conservators. We would like to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the corrugated clamshell’s formal introduction to the conservation world!

Jennifer Rosner
Chief of Conservation

Andrea Krupp still makes the same boxes today!

Monday, December 5, 2011

James Rush and the Siamese Twins

Recently, I was preparing a display of materials for a visitor who had a particular interest in Shakespeare.  Library Company benefactor James Rush (1786-1869), son of Declaration of Independence signer and famed doctor Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), created a work that I thought might be of some interest: Hamlet, a Dramatic Prelude; in Five Acts (Philadelphia, 1834).  The work was most vociferously panned upon publication, but was clearly a labor of love for Rush, who was better known for his more well-received Philosophy of the Human Voice.  In our collection of Rush Family Papers, we have several of Rush’s volumes of notes, drafts, and printer’s proofs for his Prelude, and it was one of these that I pulled for our visitor: a blank leather-bound volume that Rush apparently used to make notes from the inception of his idea for the Prelude in May 1827 until at least September 1829.

On the last page of this volume, I found a drawing of two males in profile under the manuscript caption “The Siamese boys exhibited in Philadelphia October 10th 1829.”  The “Siamese boys,” of course, were Chang and Eng Bunker, the famous conjoined twins who first came to the public’s attention in 1829, when they left Siam for a tour of Europe and North America.  

The drawing immediately produced in my mind an image of James Rush sitting in the audience as the Bunkers were first exhibited.  Perhaps he found himself so taken by them that he immediately created this drawing on the only paper he had ready to hand, the volume he had used for two and a half years to create the work that would still take him another five years to complete.  The original Siamese twins were a true sensation when they first came to America, and to stumble upon a piece like this, which puts us in the audience the very first time they were seen by Philadelphians, creates a vivid connection to the history we strive to preserve.

Currently two pieces from our collection that relate to Chang and Eng Bunker are  included in the  Through the Weeping Glass exhibition at the Mutter Museum, where they are displayed with several other items relating to the Siamese twins.

Rachel A. D'Agostino
Curator of Printed Books

Monday, November 28, 2011

Traipsing Through the Woods of Tacony

Page from Howell Bickley’s diary, February 4, 1854.  From the personal collection of Joseph Jones.
Researcher Joseph Jones recently approached us looking for images of several estates once located in the present-day Tacony section of Northeast Philadelphia.  We were able to locate an image of the Lardner family farmhouse, shedding light on an 1854 entry in a diary owned by Jones and written by eleven-year-old Howell Bickley, who grew up on a neighboring farm.  In the entry, reproduced above, Bickley describes going for a nine-mile walk in the woods in the vicinity of Mr. Lardner’s estate.  Upon further research, Jones was able to determine that the Lardner property mentioned was in fact the estate of John Lardner, also known as “Tacony Farm.”  
The photograph of John Lardner’s estate below is from the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph collection, consisting of nearly 1,500 negatives and a smaller number of photographic prints.  Morris extensively photographed family members as well as geographic locations in and around Philadelphia to which his family had ties. The title of the photograph suggests that Mary P. Lardner was the cousin of Marriott C. Morris. 
Co[u]s[in] Mary P. Lardner’s old house & place at Tacony.  From river--on boat. May 2, 1885.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph collection.

The unearthing of this image “…is a major discovery in bringing this diary to life,” in the words of Jones, who hopes someday to publish a children’s book related to the diary. 
In the course of his research, Jones has found that there are currently efforts to redevelop the area where the Lardner estate once stood as Lardner’s Point Park.  A modern-day view of the location can be seen in this article about the project:
The Morris family papers found at the Independence National Historic Park include the personal papers of Marriott C. Morris.  The archivists currently processing the collection have created a blog documenting highlights of their findings, as well as a link to the finding aid, which can be seen by clicking here:

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Large Pages into Small Spaces

Sampler Book
The three conservators in the McLean Conservation Department (Jennifer Rosner, Andrea Krupp, and Alice Austin) are all active members of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.  On November 5 and 6, 2011, they hosted a workshop at the Library Company on map-folding called “Large Pages into Small Spaces: Folding Paper to Fit into a Binding Structure.” It was taught by Pam Spitzmueller, the James W. Needham Chief Conservator for Special Collections at Harvard University. Older atlases offer many examples of how this challenge was solved in the past, so Pam started by giving a presentation on some of the atlases that she has encountered over the years. Then the twelve people attending the workshop learned different ways to fold maps into book structures, and each person made a “sampler binding” to try some of them out. The workshop was both fun and interesting, and as you can see in the photos, the room was filled with cut up and folded AAA maps and out-of-date modern atlases!

Chinese map folds
One way to fold a map
Jennifer Rosner
Chief of Conservation

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Bond by Any Other Name….

“What a striking street scene!” was my first thought on seeing the Philadelphia Traction Company bond sent to me on approval from the New England ephemera dealer George LeBarre Galleries.

Given my interests as a print curator, I hardly considered the name of the 1935 purchaser—in this case, the cumbersome "Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives and Granting Annuities, trustee under the will of Frederick James, deceased, in trust for J. Monroe Shellenberger and George Shellenberger"—in my decision to acquire the bond. I was more focused on estimating the date that the piece was printed, often different from the issue date. Feeling fairly confident in my estimation of a printing date at the turn of the twentieth century, I put the bond aside for future cataloging.

Whenever I catalog I search genealogical websites such as GenealogyBank and, in addition to Google.  Not expecting much for J. Monroe and George Shellenberger, I was quite pleased to hit a veritable historical gossip jackpot. Through a series of newspaper articles I discovered that J. Monroe Shellenberger, Sr., was an infamous Doylestown lawyer convicted of forgery and sentenced to Eastern State Penitentiary in 1890.  His children were made wards of his brother-in-law John O. James, brother of "Frederick James, deceased." Suddenly the names seemed even more fascinating than the eye-catching trolley scene on the print.

I should not have been surprised, then, while cataloging another bond purchased at LeBarre, that its provenance overshadowed its visual content as well. Issued to "Girard Trust Company of Philada'a committee of the State in Pennsylvania, of Lillian Augusta Stuart Moore de Bildt, a lunatic," who could resist trying to figure out the identity of a person declared insane.  It turns out de Bildt was daughter of Philadelphia philanthropist and author Clara Jessup Moore and businessman Bloomfield H. Moore. Not only that, she was sister to respected archeologist Clarence Bloomfield Moore, whose house still stands across the street from the Library Company. Married to diplomat Baron Carl Nils Daniel de Bildt in 1874, Lillian was shortly thereafter declared insane. The couple divorced in 1890—ironically, the same year Mr. Shellenberger headed to jail. Who says cataloging is boring?

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“Ireland, America, and the Worlds of Mathew Carey”

A conference sponsored by 
The McNeil Center for Early American Studies,
The Library Company of Philadelphia,
the Program in Early American Economy and Society,
and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries

The first half of the Mathew Carey conference kicked off last week, bringing scholars from Ireland and the United States together to discuss the many facets of Carey’s life. Reversing the arc of Carey’s own life, the conference will move from Philadelphia to Trinity College Dublin next week. Carey made the reverse journey at the age of 24 to escape British officials after his seditious Volunteer’s Journal caught their attention. In his Autobiography, Carey reports he made the journey disguised “in female dress,” in which he “must have cut a very gawkey [sic] figure.”

In his welcoming remarks, Jim Green, librarian at the Library Company and the foremost expert on Carey, asked the audience to consider whether Carey was a founder. Green pointed out that Carey certainly shared one quality with the founders: ever enigmatic, Carey is as hard to pin down as Jefferson, Franklin, etc. on the questions that faced the new nation. Borrowing from Roslyn Remer’s insight in Printers and Men of Capital, Green observed the tension that those who have worked on Carey have noted—a tension between cooperation and competition—reflects the paradox of the book trade itself in the period. Green concluded by describing Carey in the parlance of his time, as a man of incredible passion who had mixed success in regulating those passions.

The conference picked up the next morning at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies with Maurice Bric’s plenary address. Bric posed a question that remained on the table for the rest of the conference: What were Carey’s Irish influences?  How did Carey’s experience in Ireland shape his understanding of American politics and culture?  Bric asked this question in relation to Carey’s The Urgent Necessity of an Immediate Repeal of the Whole Penal Code (1781), which, as one panelist observed, became the urtext of the conference. Bric identified “oligarchy” as Carey’s primary concern in the pamphlet and looked at how Carey targeted oligarchy in the American context, specifically in his exchanges with William Cobbett. In the lengthy discussion that followed Bric’s presentation, the question of Carey’s stance on race was raised, and this question also percolated throughout the rest of the conference. Carey held contradictory positions on the status of African Americans in the new republic, and one wonders if his understanding of himself as a racialized subject in colonial Ireland influenced his perspectives and actions in Philadelphia.

The panels that followed were as varied as the career of a ceaseless scribbler of nearly 50 years. Topics such as politics, economics, religion, and print culture reflected the fact that Carey, to borrow a description from Samuel Blodget, was like “the proboscis of a noble elephant,” surveying the landscape all around him.

And there is so much more fun to come!  The Carey conference will pick up in Dublin next week. The Dublin conference is being organized by academics from the Centre for Irish-Scottish and Comparative Studies, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and the University of Aberdeen, and coordinated through the Trinity Long Room Hub in association with the National Library of Ireland.

Molly O’Hagan Hardy
Mellon Writing Fellow, Southwestern University
2010 LCP American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Fellow

Friday, November 4, 2011

Auction Success

     I just returned from bidding on a few lots at a sale at Freeman’s Auction, and my heart is still pounding. The adrenaline really gets going when there is bidding happening on the floor, on the phones, and on the internet and you don’t want to lose track of what’s happening. I succeeded in buying the one lot I most wanted—a ca. 1870s albumen photograph of the Wissahickon by Philadelphia photographer John C. Browne. This photograph was one that was missing in an album of Browne photographs given to us last year and it is great to be able to reunite it with companion pieces.

 Sarah Weatherwax
Curator of Prints & Photographs

Thursday, November 3, 2011

LCP Collections on Loan

We recently had a few items that were on loan to other institutions returned to us and it got me thinking about where else people can see Library Company collections outside of our building. If anyone is going to be in New York City, be sure to visit the Morgan Library & Museum to see their current exhibition Charles Dickens at 200 ( Described by the New York Times as an “immensely rich exhibition of manuscripts, photographs, letters, illustrations and artifacts,” the exhibition includes a daguerreotype portrait of Dickens from our collection. Closer to home, we have a print and pamphlet relating to Chang and Eng, 19th century co-joined twins, at the Mutter Museum’s Through the Weeping Glass exhibition, and Civil War ephemera including envelopes, political campaign cards and an anti-slavery token on view in an exhibition entitled Philadelphia 1861: The Coming Storm at the Union League’s new Heritage Center.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Technology Versus Art"

Join us on Wednesday, March 23 at 6:00 p.m. for “Technology Versus Art: The Early Daguerreotype’s Confounding Status in Philadelphia, 1839-1845"

Sarah Gillespie, current William H. Helfand American Visual Culture Fellow at the Library Company, will discuss the initial reception of the daguerreotype in Philadelphia. The Library Company holds over 200 daguerreotypes, primarily produced in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860. Many of these early photographs were recently on display in our “Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839-1860” and can now be seen in the online exhibition. Please email or call 215.546.3181 to RSVP for this event.

Monday, March 14, 2011

“Revisiting Rural Cemeteries”

Join us on Wednesday, March 16th, 1:00 - 5:45 p.m. for a Symposium Sponsored by Library Company of Philadelphia, the Laurel Hill Cemetery Company, and the Program in Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania

In the three decades prior to the Civil War, Americans flocked to “rural” cemeteries being built outside cities and towns. They came to mourn, to tour, and buy land; to hear speeches, view monuments, and visit family lots; to study the art of landscape gardening; and to engage in a kind of solitude that was both social and civic in nature. Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, an early example of the type, is now celebrating its 175th anniversary. In conjunction with the exhibition “Building a City of the Dead: The Creation and Expansion of Laurel Hill Cemetery” (on view at the Library Company through April 29), this conference will explore the “rural” cemetery movement and antebellum attitudes toward death. The event is free and open to the public but pre-registration is required. Please register here.

Click here to see the event brochure.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stewardship Program

Become a Steward of the collections of the Library Company and sponsor your own piece of history! Through our Stewardship Program, you can support the purchase of interesting and important rare books, pamphlets, prints, and photographs. Each month, we will list new items available for stewardship on our website. Click here for more information about the program and to see the complete list of stewardship opportunities.

Above image:

Marcus A. Root, photographer, Eliza Y. McAllister, quarter-plate daguerreotype ca. 1850.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In-Service Day 2-4-11

The Library Company has scheduled an in-service day for staff on Friday, February 4, 2011.

Consequently, the Library Company reading rooms will be closed to all researchers except current fellows.

The McNeil Center program in the Logan Room will occur as planned, and our gallery will be open for viewing the current exhibition.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

This day in history:

On January 21, 1738 Revolutionary War Hero, Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut.

In our collection:

Allen, Ethan. A narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's captivity:from the time of his being taken by the British, near Montreal, on the 25th day of September, in the year 1775, to the time of his exchange, on the 6th day of May, 1778: containing his voyages and travels ... Interspersed with some political observations (Philadelphia: printed, Boston: re-printed by Draper and Folsom)