Monday, June 24, 2013

My First Weeks as the LCP Print Department Intern

Intern Kat Poje, Haverford '16

Returning my tomes on medieval medicine to the library, clearing my computer of the multiple drafts of papers and paragraphs cluttering Word document folders, and having taken my last trip to the Quaker and Special Collections at Haverford College, I felt a deep sense of relief. My spring semester’s final research papers were done, and my bookshelves could once again house novels, not just dense historical studies.
There is a poetic quality to the fact that now finished with my scholarly research as a freshman, I begin working on the other side — with those who make such research possible. With the support of Haverford College’s John B. Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, I am interning throughout the summer with the Print Department  at the Library Company of Philadelphia. My work involves making primary source materials available to visiting scholars and interested members of the public, a facet of research I had not previously spent much time considering.
Interior of Christ Church.

LCP recently acquired the Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection of 2,000 “stereos.” (In case, like me, you were previously unaware that a stereo was something other than a music amplification system, a stereograph is a double-sided photograph. A photographer creates two images of the same object/scene, taking each one at a slightly different angle, and then mounts them next to one another on a mat. When viewed in a stereoscope, a binocular-like contraption, the photographs “meld” together as one three-dimensional image). 

Chamounix, Fairmount Park.
The Holstein Collection predominantly contains 19th- and early 20th-century images of Philadelphia, including views of churches, hospitals, Fairmount Park, the Schuylkill River, and the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Through my work with the collection, I am gaining new insight into the history of the City of Brotherly Love, my home-metropolis for the next three years of college. On the day-to-day level, I am helping to make the photographs accessible to visitors and, eventually, online researchers.

Mrs. Maxwell taxidermy display at the Centennial Exhibition, 1876.

 As it stands now, the collection is not fully processed and I am at the stage of arranging and describing it. Under the supervision of the Print Department, particularly Associate Curator Erika Piola (a Haverford alumna), I am alphabetizing the stereographs by title, providing call numbers, and housing them (an archival mat inscribed with ID information and an acid-free sleeve to protect it from the hands that will handle it). This occasionally involves a bit of sleuthing, especially when the image has no title, is missing a date, or seems to have a twin image under another title. I am also digitizing some of the collection, so it can be viewed online. To take a look at some of my work, you can check out the Library Company’s Flickr page: More will be coming soon, so check back! You might just discover Philly, wandering through time and space from your desk, as did stereograph viewers more than one hundred years ago.

Kat Poje, Haverford ‘16
Print Department intern, Summer 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let's Get the Lead Out, or Why Paints and Drugs Do Mix

Philadelphia was home to many early chemical and paint companies. The nineteenth century found these two industries to be integrally related by virtue of the fact that alcohol was a prime ingredient in both. One paint company, the John Lucas Works, prepared a green paint “heavier in body, and at the same time, when used by workmen, not detrimental to their health.” There was obviously no truth in advertising laws at that time, and these same workmen were at constant risk. The effect of lead poisoning was primarily due to absorption of the lead base by the painter and secondarily by anyone who lived within the confines of the painted house. Children chewing upon window sills laced with lead paint were especially vulnerable. Although not recognized at that time, lead, a potent neurotoxin, without proper precautions and with chronic exposure, was potentially lethal. However, this was the Victorian era, and that was the state of the art!
Although nothing of an historical nature has been written concerning Robert Baker, John Moore and Benjamin V. Mein, much can be gleaned from their illustrated advertisements. Their original building, located at 621 Market Street (rear entrance at 612 Commerce Street), was a rather dilapidated affair. The company touted itself as being a wholesale druggist and sole proprietor of the First National White Lead and Color Works. It can be seen below on an 1873 philatelic cover from my personal collection.

First National White Lead and Color Works philatelic cover, 1873. Collection of Dr. Gus Spector.

As a volunteer at the Library Company I was given the very pleasant task of providing an electronic transcription of a large number of medically-oriented billheads from the William H. Helfand Graphic Popular Medicine Stationery Collection, donated by Mr. Helfand, a former Library Company of Philadelphia Board President and Trustee Emeritus. As a physician, I found this challenging, attempting to decipher the nineteenth-century handwriting and  unraveling the names of proprietary drugs unfamiliar in today's medical lexicon. As a collector of illustrated Philadelphia paper  memorabilia, I found the collection most fascinating.

Within the Library Company’s collection was an illustrated billhead dated June 1887 showing the fa├žade of the Barker, Moore and Mein Company, relocated to 609 Market Street. The new Market Street building was a much more imposing six story Italianate edifice. The busy street scene in front of the building suggested a most prosperous business. 

Barker, Moore & Mein billhead, 1887. Helfand Graphic Popular Medicine Stationery Collection. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Barker, Moore and Mein were masters of merchandising. An 1877 billhead from the Helfand Collection proclaimed that, not only were they purveyors of lead paint, but manufactured numerous other semi-related products such as Barker’s Vegetable Horse, Cattle and Poultry Powder; Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment; and Barker’s Brazilian Shoe Dressing. Since the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had not yet been conceived, it was anyone’s guess as to the actual composition of these products. The handwritten invoice seen here listed the sale of such sundry products as cologne, castor oil, Wright’s Liver Pills, and paregoric. 

Barker, Moore & Mein billhead, 1887. Helfand Graphic Popular Medicine Stationery Collection. Library Company of Philadelphia.
As part of their advertising campaign, Barker published a “Komic Almanac” that could be personalized for other companies with “your name and business printed on the cover.”  The 1893 philatelic cover from my collection seen below promised “a book containing nearly 150 pictures, side splitters and button bursters”. Unfortunately, as was common at the time, many of the cartoons contained within depicted extreme racial slurs.

Barker's Komic Almanac philatelic cover, 1893. Collection of Dr. Gus Spector.

It is indeed interesting to view the drug industry as stemming from a paint factory lineage. The advent of chemical engineering and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 gave rise to the disappearance of the mystique of Victorian homeopathy as the mainstay of pharmaceutical treatment. When the scientific technology became available, the only extra added essential ingredient was human ingenuity.

Gus Spector, M.D.
Library Company Volunteer