“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.
Whenever I catalog I search genealogical websites such as GenealogyBank and ancestry.com, 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?
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs