Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Over There, Over Everywhere: The Aero Service Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia

The following post is by guest blogger Carl H. Winnefeld, Jr. who is mining our Aero Service Collection looking for photographs of company personnel and aircraft.  A former Aero Service employee, Winnefeld and colleagues are compiling this information for a website and potential future publication. Winnefeld stumbled upon the above photograph inspiring him to write the blog post below. The blog post was originally written for the World War One blog, Home Before the Leaves Fall. The Home Before the Leaves Fall website is an initiative of multiple cultural institutions in the Delaware Valley to digitize and make available their holdings related to World War One.  The Library Company’s World War One collection can be found on ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog, with the collection broken down into two sub-categories: World War One Posters and Photographs and Ephemera.  In addition, a selection of World War One posters appear on Flickr.

The Aero Service Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia contains material (primarily photographic images) acquired by the Aero Service Corporation and its president, Virgil Kauffman over a 40 year time frame. Aero Service was founded in Philadelphia in 1919 as Pennsylvania Aero Service and remained based in Philadelphia until 1973 when it relocated to Houston, Texas. The company operated on a worldwide basis.  Its primary business was aerial photography, photogrammetry (the use of photography in surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects), and remote sensing using an airborne magnetometer. In 1934 Aero Service worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority to map areas where the TVA was responsible for developing watershed resources. In 1947 Aero Service flew one of the first large airborne magnetometer surveys using Shoran navigation control over the Bahamas.
Jules Schick Photography, Virgil Kauffman, gelatin silver photograph, March 18, 1958. Library Company of Philadelphia

The Aero Service Corporation’s longtime president Virgil Kauffman (portrait above) was born in Yardley Pennsylvania in 1898. With the onset of World War I, Kauffman was assigned to the Corps of Engineers Photography School. The Army Air Corps utilized aerial photography for intelligence during the war and Kauffman was assigned to participate in the aerial reconnaissance missions, making this his introduction to aerial photography. After the war, he joined Aero Service in 1924 and directed the company from 1927 to 1961. His contributions to the scientific and technical world were wide ranging and significant. In 1966 he funded the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal to be awarded by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists for outstanding contribution in geophysical exploration.  Kauffman was associated with the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University from 1961 to 1985. Virgil Kauffman passed away in 1985.

The first image above shows the village of Blondefontaine, France in the winter of 1918 immediately after the war. Blondefontaine is located 285 kilometers. southeast of Paris. The village today looks very much as it did in 1918. The image below is a description of the scene written by Virgil Kauffman. The photograph provides a view of just how grim it must have been during the war years in France.
Verso of Street of Blondefontaine- Dec. 26-1918. Library Company of Philadelphia

Carl H. Winnefeld, Jr.
Guest Blogger for the Library Company of Philadelphia

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Word Pictures

The Morris Collection keeps on growing!  David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox and William Perot Morris recently added to the Library Company’s holdings of over 1600 of their grandfather’s photographs with a gift of travel journals by Marriott C. Morris and his daughter Jane as well as copies of letters written by Morris while attending Haverford College.

The letters, written by Morris between 1881 and 1885 to his mother Martha Canby Morris, reveal a bit of the young photographer’s personality.  Even from this relatively small sampling, the frequency with which the letters were sent and the affection they contained show a son devoted to his mother.  Morris’ familial dedication also extended to his sister Bess, for whom he often expressed concern and inquired after.  The letters also reveal a scholar who was serious about his studies – but not too serious.  Morris described his classes and lectures in a generally positive way, except for the subject of Trigonometry, which seems to have been a thorn in his side.  He expressed his distaste for the subject with a dash of dry humor in a letter written on November 9, 1883.  He wrote to his mother, “You little thought when you were comfortably seated at dinner yesterday that I was undergoing the horrors of that Trigonometry examination.  Yet it was even so.”  When he wasn't suffering through Trigonometry, Morris engaged in a variety of social activities with a large group of friends, including George Vaux, another member of a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family.  Morris’ letters described football games, dinner parties, sledding, and an intricate telegraph project conducted with Vaux.

Marriott C. Morris, Friend’s Library from girls door of school house, 1883
Even in these letters from his early Haverford days, Morris’ passion for photography is clear.  Morris frequently mentioned both finished prints and his photographic process when writing to his mother.  In a letter from October 25, 1883 Morris asked his mother to bring him two photographs he had mounted earlier that fall to decorate his room.  He remembered that one of the photographs depicted the library, but could not remember the subject of the other photograph, which was taken at the same time.

By matching the date of the letter with photographs in the Morris Collection, it is possible that the unknown second photograph could have been of the Morris family’s old house, Soldier’s Monument or the Quaker meeting house, all located in Germantown. 

A few months later, Morris wrote to his mother about some photographs he had taken with his friend George Vaux.  He called these photographs of the “fellows” and the class of ’87 “the best groups I have ever tried.”  Morris was proud of these photographs but also profited from them.  He told his mother that he planned to charge 20 cents per print and already had some orders. 

However, in this same letter Morris expressed frustration with his more recent photographs.  He wrote that he was trying out some new plates and had not yet perfected their use.  Similarly, in a letter from March 14, 1884 Morris wrote a long entry about his recent experimentation with a new wide angle lens.  Regardless of Martha Canby Morris’ comprehension or interest in the minute details of her son’s photographic practice, these surprisingly technical missives reveal Morris in the act of finding his way as a photographer and the genesis of his project to document his experiences and environment. 

Marriott C. Morris, “German Class” T.W.R., C.W.B., J.J.B., & L.L.S., 1883

The knowledge gained from these letters and journals enhances our understanding of Morris’ life and adds yet another layer of depth and complexity to the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ethiopian Bookbinding at the Library Company

Over the weekend of October 25th and 26th, the Library Company was the host site for a workshop on Ethiopian Bookbinding that was sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.  The Library Company conservators are all members or officers of the chapter and have organized a number of guild events over the years.  Ten students attended the workshop, which was taught by Bill Hanscom, a conservation technician for special collections at Harvard Library.  Bill has been researching Ethiopian bookbinding for a while and is currently writing an essay to be published in the next volume of Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding. 

At the beginning of the workshop, Bill showed images of Ethiopian bindings and explained the typical features.  Amazingly, many of the features have not changed for more than 1400 years.  He showed some videos of the books being made in a marketplace in Ethiopia. In one video, a man was squatting and working on the ground, applying paste to the covering leather with his hand.  Next, our group examined two Ethiopian bindings owned by the Library Company, one rather large and grand and the other very modest, almost primitive.  In the past, I always thought they were interesting bindings. But now that I knew more about how they were made and could identify the various features, I looked at them with new eyes!  It was very helpful for everyone to be able to examine authentic examples. 

Then we started working on our own historically accurate models. We shaped and pierced wooden boards.  We made sewing “thread” buy cutting a thin spiral out of a circle of parchment, and then moistening and twisting it into one long strand.  Most of us made three books, one covered in leather, one with a cloth wrapper called a “lebas,” and one with a parchment spine. 

Today, Ethiopian bindings are still made with only a few tools.  Unlike the man in the video, we worked sitting at tables, but tried to follow his technique otherwise.  For me, it is always inspirational to make a historical model. I try to imagine how various binding features evolved over time and to consider their purpose.  Was it structure, decoration, or tradition?  In many cases it could be all three.  But the most important thing is that it helps me know what I am looking at and what is important when I approach a binding in my work as a conservator.

Jennifer Rosner
Chief of Conservation