Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Things that Make You Go "Hmmm"

Moses Williams, attributed to Raphaelle Peale

When I first began working at the Library Company more than a decade ago, one of the first Print Department treasures I handled was the silhouette attributed to Raphaelle Peale showing the noted African American silhouettist Moses Williams. Since then I have pulled many items from our silhouette collection, but not until recently have I truly looked at these unique portraits. There are certainly silhouettes of great skill, many from the Peale Museum, included in the hundreds we hold--but then there are some that make you go "hmmm" or "oh, no." 

Silhouettes could enhance physical flaws, not really noticeable until in profile, like the double chin of this possibly unsuspecting woman.

And surely this younger woman was wearing a headpiece when she sat for her portrait, but in silhouette the accessory has morphed into what resembles a grotesque growth.

Other fashionable ladies appear to have an arm or what looks like a plunger protruding from the back of their well-coifed heads. The opposite sex did not always fair better.

Necks and heads seem to merge and the silhouette of this bald fellow brings the image of a sci-fi monster, rather than a gentleman, to the mind's eye. 

Although chuckle-producing on occasion, these less-finessed pieces make me appreciate all the more the skills needed to create the seemingly simple cutout or inked silhouettes in our holdings.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Library Company Collections on Flickr

Ca. 1906 Horn and Hardart’s Automat Postcard from the Library Company’s Postcard Collection on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/6648420107/in/photostream
I’m an intern at the Library Company, working here for the first two weeks of January in the Print Department, doing various tasks relating to the Library Company’s collections of lithographs, drawings, cartoons, photographs, and other types of graphical images.
One of my largest tasks has been with several collections of ephemera which the Library Company has been digitizing, with help from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ephemera—printed material not intended to be preserved—can include items like paper dolls, playbills, movie tickets, playing cards, or even airsickness bags. The collections of ephemera that I am working with, though, consist of postcards and trade cards.
            The Library Company’s postcard collection includes the George Brightbill Collection and separately received postcards housed as the Library Company Collection.  Brightbill, a retired archivist at Temple University, gave his collection of 6,500 postcard images of Philadelphia, including many one-of-a-kind photograph postcards, to the Library Company in 2000. The Library Company Collection includes various views in and around the Philadelphia region. 
Trade cards are small cards, the size of a postcard or smaller, that feature advertisements for businesses. The Library Company’s trade card collection consists of more than 1,000 early advertising cards for Philadelphia businesses and manufacturers, and products made by Philadelphia firms.  The trade cards were primarily collected by Emily Phillips (1822-1909), who collected trade cards for local stores and businesses and presented them to the Library Company in 1882.
Through the funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, both of these collections have been scanned at high resolution. My task is to remove the extraneous parts of the image (consisting of technical information used in the scanning process) and to make each image a standard size. Eventually, these images will all be uploaded to ImPAC, the Library Company’s online database of images.   I also posted a selection of images from the collections I was working with onto flickr.
Ca. 1910 Postcard of Woodside Park from the George Brightbill Postcard Collection on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/6642937717/in/photostream
While the cropping can sometimes get tedious, the cards themselves are fascinating. The postcards offer images of everything from automats, where five cents would buy you a full meal from a complex vending machine, to early amusement parks. Some of the trade cards, too, are unique. One offered a before-and-after image of the users of its product, Buckingham’s Dye for the Whiskers (see below). The poor fellow’s whiskers had improbably gone entirely white, while the hair on top of his head remained brown. As a remedy, he turns to the dye, which is “easy of application, safe and effectual, and is rapidly growing in public favor,” according to the advertising copy.
Buckingham’s dye for the whiskers. Ca. 1885 tradecard on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/6669220303/in/photostream
Check out these cards and others at the Library Company’s flickr page, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/.

Written by Jon William Sweitzer-Lamme
Library Company of Philadelphia Volunteer Intern

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Six Degrees of Shellenberger

Do you remember the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?" I’ll bet you do, and I’ll bet you did not always need six steps to trace a relationship to this Philly native. I often make similar connections between historical figures in my work at the Library Company and it always tickles me. I even curated a one-case exhibition on the theme when the Print Department's Arcadia book Center City in the Nineteenth Century came out in 2006. Consequently, when Curator Sarah Weatherwax pointed out the ties between a 2010 acquisition and my blog post about J. Monroe Shellenberger from a few weeks ago, I could not resist a sequel posting. Despite wanting to delude myself that I remember every graphic that we acquire, I had not made the connection to this print of the 1886 architectural drawing of our infamous friend's residence in Doylestown. Designed by Philadelphia architect Charles M. Burns, Jr., the dwelling, according to the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings website, was built by H. D. Livezey and James Flack circa 1886. Perhaps Shellenberger's embezzling helped pay for it? 

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs