Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild (1855 - 1921), Library Pioneer

 I recently acquired a letter on the stationery of the United States Hotel in Boston dated June 27, 1886 from George T. Cutler to his sister Mary Salome Cutler (later Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild). Salome, as she preferred to be called, was one of the outstanding American librarians of the 19th century. She was one of “40 leaders of the library movement” selected for a Library Hall of Fame by Library Journal in 1951 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the American Library Association. Salome Fairchild is also included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) which has a comprehensive biography by Budd L. Gambee. Fairchild was hired by Melvil Dewey in 1884 as a cataloger for the Columbia College Library, and she also served as an instructor in cataloging at the library school founded by Dewey at Columbia. She followed Dewey to the New York State Library when the library school was moved from Columbia to New York in 1889. Fairchild became vice-director of the library school in 1891, and served in that capacity until 1905. As vice-director Fairchild was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the library school and also maintained a heavy teaching load at the school. In his biography of Fairchild, Gambee writes: “The inspirational quality of her teaching was highly praised by her contemporaries. Her enthusiasm and her faith in the perfectibility of mankind sustained her missionary zeal for the library movement. Her specialties were cataloging book selection, and a seminar that combined library history with a study of contemporary libraries.”  Fairchild was also in charge of the New York State Library for the Blind. In his biography about Dewey Irrepressible Reformer (ALA, 1996) Wayne A. Wiegand notes that Fairchild and Dewey had significant philosophical differences in regard to the their approach to library education. Dewey emphasized the practical aspect of instruction whereas Fairchild advocated for a more theoretical and cultural approach. Fairchild was an active member of ALA and served as vice-president in 1894-95 and 1900-1901. One of her major contributions to ALA was serving as chair of the committee which arranged the ALA exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 which included a model library. An annotated book selection list created for the exhibit was the first of several that became known as the A.L.A. Catalogs. The Wikipedia entry for Fairchild includes an interesting section on her 1904 study of “Women in American Libraries”.  The 1886 letter to Cutler/Fairchild from her brother includes advice to her about her upcoming extended trip to the Mid-west and information about financing the trip. There is only one library reference in the letter. At the end her brother writes, “I got the bulletin from Library Bureau.” I’m happy to have this artifact with a connection to this great library lady.

Monday, August 24, 2015

1862 Library of Congress Envelope

This weekend I attended StampShow 2015 sponsored by the American Philatelic Society in Grand Rapids, MI. This is the largest annual stamp show in the nation. Over the years a small cadre of philatelic dealers have been thoughtful enough to save items related to my collecting interest of postal librariana until the next time they see me at a stamp show. Several of these dealers were at the Grand Rapids show. One dealer (thanks Doug) was holding an especially nice item for me. It is an envelope (shown above) mailed by Ainsworth Rand Spofford at the Library of Congress on March 13, 1862 to Washington, D.C. bookseller P.R. Fendall. At the time Spofford was Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress. He became Librarian of Congress in 1864 and served in that capacity until 1897. The envelope has an embossed Library of Congress return address and has a hand written notation indicating that it contained a letter from Spofford and that Fendall had sent the books which Spofford had requested. I have a large collection of postal items related to the Library of Congress and have a philatelic exhibit of these items. This envelope is special because it is the first one I have seen which includes a postage stamp and was mailed prior to 1870. Mail sent by the Library of Congress was limited before the library was authorized to handle the copyright function on behalf of the United States in 1870. For much of its early history the Library of Congress made use of the free franking privilege of members of congress for its outgoing mail. After 1877 the Library of Congress used a special category of stampless mail for government agencies referred to as “penalty mail” because of the statement on envelopes threatening a penalty for private use. I’m revamping my Library of Congress exhibit and this envelope will make a very nice addition.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Superior, WI Carnegie Library For Sale

Central Library

Branch Library

Haven’t done much blogging lately. Lots of travel this summer. On one of my trips I went through Superior, WI and was able to see both Carnegie library buildings. The old central library was abandoned in 1991 when it moved to new quarters, and is currently for sale. Superior was one of three communities in Wisconsin to receive a grant from Carnegie for a second branch library building. The branch library in Superior was converted to a private residence (also in 1991) and is still occupied by the owner.  After my trip I found out about a recent article about the central library. The writer of the article managed to get inside of the library and posted a number of pictures. The library is for sale for $125,000 and would probably cost a few hundred thousand more to restore. The branch library is overgrown with vegetation and looks like it could use some TLC. I have more information about both of Superior’s Carnegie libraries on my Library History Buff website.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Darkest Day for the Library of Congress?

It might be said that the darkest day in the long history of the Library of Congress was August 24, 1814 when the British army burned the U.S. Capitol including the collection of the Library of Congress which was housed there. I have written previously about this occasion and the role played by Patrick Magruder, Librarian of Congress, during this event. I’ve recently added another artifact to my collection related to Magruder’s role in the destruction of the Library of Congress. It is the December 12, 1814 Report of the Committee “To whom was referred the communication of Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House of Representatives, relative to the destruction of the library, &c.”. Magruder served in the dual capacity of Clerk of the House of Representatives and Librarian of Congress. The communication referred to was Magruder’s account of the actions of his office during the events leading up to destruction of the library and the records of the Clerk’s office.  In the report, the committee expressed the opinion, “that due precaution and diligence were not exercised to prevent the destruction and loss which has been sustained.” At the time of the destruction, Magruder himself was absent “on account of indisposition”. In the report the committee seemed skeptical about his indisposition and indicated that it “ought to have been, serious and alarming to have justified his absence under the circumstances which then existed.”  During the destruction of the Capitol the financial records of the Clerk were destroyed and the committee in reconstructing these came to the conclusion that a balance of $19,874 was unaccounted for and due the United States. Although Magruder managed to avoid being prosecuted for these missing funds, he resigned on January 28, 1815. The destruction of the Library of Congress led to the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library to replace the destroyed collection. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Another California ALA Conference, 1911

The American Library Association is concluding a successful conference in San Francisco today. I have a postcard (see above) in my collection that is related to a previous ALA conference in California. The postcard announces the travel arrangements for the 1911 ALA Conference in Pasadena, California. It was mailed on March 2, 1911. A report on the train trip to the conference and the sessions of the conference appeared in the June issue of the magazine Public Libraries. The train trip included a two day stay at the Grand Canyon.  "A number of the men properly garbed went down to the river's brink afoot and tried to look happy over it during the next 36 hours, likewise did those who rode the mules.  Less active persons sat and gazed for hours at the changing colors of the gorges, chasms and peaks , heedless of the lobster pink the open air bestowed on their faces."  James Wyer, President of the Association and Director of the New York State Library, was unable to attend the conference because of a tragedy at the State Library.  On March 29, 1911, a fire destroyed most of the library and its collection.  On a happier note at the conference, ALA elected the first woman as president. As stated in Public Libraries: "Mrs. Theresa West Elmendorf, the first woman to be honored by the association with its presidency, comes into the office by right of achievement greater than that of any other woman in the library field and of an equal grade with that of any man.  Her wholesome, sympathetic attitude toward library work and workers has been a distinct contribution to the craft and her freedom from personal ambition has made her a valuable aid in developing the power of the A. L. A. Her election to the presidency is a well-earned, a well-deserved honor, marking an epoch in which the A. L. A. honored itself in honoring her." Elmendorf was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 1908.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ALA in San Francisco 1891 Revisited

The blog of the American Library Association Archives recently had an excellent post about ALA's 1891 meeting in San Francisco. That reminded me of an earlier post that I made on this blog about that same ALA meeting. I'm reposting it below.

My collection of postal libraiana consists primarily of envelopes that have no contents. Occasionally, however, I will come across the contents with no envelope, and sometimes those contents contain an interesting story. Such is the case with a three page letter (partially shown above) written by George T. Clark to his cousin Ida on November 10, 1891. At the time he wrote this letter, Clark was Deputy Librarian for the California State Library in Sacramento. The most interesting part of the letter is a paragraph in which he discusses the 1891 Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco. It reads in part: 

"Last month the American Library Association held its annual conference in San Francisco, one of the same kind that I attended at the Thousand Islands [1887 ALA Conference]. But California is so far away that not so many attended this year as usual. Only about fifty came from afar but they represented states all along the line from Massachusetts to Colorado. A Worcester man, S. S. Green, was president. The week they were here I spent with them in San Francisco, and enjoyed witnessing the effect upon them of a little experience of California. Local committees had arranged for their reception here in Sacramento, San Francisco and at other places they visited so I hope they carried pleasant memories of their visit home with them. Even nature exerted herself to entertain them and the very first night showed her appreciation of their presence by touching us up with the liveliest earthquake we have had in years.”

Clark went on to become Librarian of the San Francisco Public Library in 1894 where he served for thirteen years. In a strange flashback to his mention of the 1891 San Francisco earthquake in the letter above, he was Librarian of the SFPL during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that destroyed the central library along with two of its branches. He became Librarian of Stanford University in 1907 where he completed his career. Clark helped found the California Library Association and served as its second president in 1898.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Special Leather Library Postcard - Sandusky, OH

I’ve written previous posts about leather library postcards for Sedalia, MO and Arcola, IL. I’ve added another leather postcard to my collection of library postcards which is special because the message on the card concerns leather library postcards and led me to a magazine article about leather library postcards. The library depicted on the postcard is the Sandusky (OH) Public Library. It was addressed to John Coulthard c/o of the Western Stamp Collector in Albany, Oregon. The postcard was mailed by Bertha Seiche of Sandusky, OH in December 1937 and the message reads: “Dear Sir: Saw your article on ‘Bright Ideas in Post Cards’ in W.S.C. and I bought this one only last week in a local book shop. Will pass it on to you. I can get more at the same place.” I was intrigued by the message and wanted to find out about Mr. Coulthard’s “Bright Ideas in Postcards”.  With the help of the American Philatelic Research Library, I got a copy of Coulthard’s article on “Bright Ideas in Postcards”.  It turns out that the title was facetious, and a more appropriate title would have been “Not So Bright Ideas in Postcards”. Coulthard wrote: “Still dizzier was the fad for leather postals that swept card collecting circles in ’06, ’07, and ’08. No one, of course, kept track of the vast herds of cattle who shed their hides to make a card collector’s holiday, but their number must have been legion. And to handle the inane, wobbly things must have given many a mail clerk a headache.” He ended the article with: “Hunt out your local supply [of postcards], if grandpap didn’t use them to half sole his shoes, and add one to your cover collection. It is irrefutable proof that people in the ‘00s weren’t bright every day all day long.” The book shop in Sandusky must have held on to this leather library postcard for several decades since it was an early 20th century postcard. The mail clerk who handled this one in 1937 must have been pretty surprised. Fortunately, it went safely through the mail so I could add it to my collection years later. This post is adapted from a blog post that I wrote for the Philatelic Literature & Research Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Large Library Postcard Collection For Sale

I'm assisting Dan Lester in disposing of his 10,000 plus library postcard collection. The largest portion of the collection (over 6,000 postcards) went to the American Library Association Archives last year. I have a group of 1,100 postcards that are duplicates of those in the ALA Archives collection. These postcards include libraries from 44 states and the District of Columbia. There are no duplicates, but there are multiple views of some of the larger libraries. The largest state group is for California with 145 postcards. Followed by New York with 68 cards, Massachusetts with 64 cards, Illinois with 61 cards, Indiana with 53 card, and the rest with less. I am willing to let the entire collection go for $800 postpaid which is a wholesale price. I would rather sell it to a library history enthusiast than a postcard dealer. If purchased individually from postcard dealers or on eBay, the collection would probably cost between $2,200 and $3,000 or more. Some images of the collection are shown below. If interested contact me (Larry Nix) at

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sir Walter Scott's Library and Renée B.Stern

Abbotsford is a historic country house in Scotland in the town of Galashiels, near Melrose. It is the former home of Sir Walter Scott, and one of its most prominent features is the library that Scott assembled. There are many postcard views of the library. The one above is from my collection, and it is special in that it was sent by a librarian to a librarian with a message that references Scott's library. The postcard was sent from Melrose, Scotland on August 4, 1903 by Renée B. Stern (1875-1940) to Emaline Carter at the Champaign (IL) Public Library. Stern writes: "My dear Miss Carter, Here is Sir Walter's library - its not D.C. [reference to the Library of Congress ?], but its really quite neat despite that fact." Stern served as a librarian at a number of Chicago area libraries, and was active in the Chicago Library Club. She was a writer and co-edited Book Trails, a multi-year/multi-volume publication of stories and poems for children. She also was author of Neighborhood Entertainments (1910).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gettysburg College’s Student Literary Societies (1831-1924)

Cover mailed by Philomathean Society, circa 1850s

Cover mailed to the Phrenakosmian Society, circa 1880s

As I noted in a previous post about Dartmouth’s student literary societies, early academic libraries were not very friendly to students. As a result students sometimes formed their own libraries as part of student literary societies. Two such literary societies were created at Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) in Gettysburg, PA. They were the Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies. I have in my collection of postal librariana covers (envelopes) related to both of these societies (see above). The very attractive cover from the Philomathean Society was mailed sometime in the 1850s (the postage stamp is on the back of the cover), and the Phrenakosmian Society cover was mailed in the 1880s. Both societies were formed at Pennsylvania College in 1831 and both were disbanded in 1924. At some point, as occurred with other student society libraries, their libraries were probably merged with the college library. The archives of the two societies are now part of Special Collections & College Archives of Gettysburg College. The Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies existed at other colleges and there is a Philomathean Society still in existence at the University of Pennsylvania.