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 nix@libraryhistorybuff.org.






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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Philatelic Gold (and Vermeil) in St. Louis



Each year I enter one or two philatelic exhibits in national level stamp shows with various library history related topics. I’ve been doing this every year since 2003, and I find the development of these exhibits to be both enjoyable and challenging. This year I developed a five frame exhibit on “America’s Membership Libraries” and a one frame exhibit on “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman”. The debut of these two exhibits was at the Saint Louis Stamp Expo last month. Philatelic exhibits are judged by a panel of experts accredited by the American Philatelic Society. They are judged against a set of criteria that varies depending on the division in which the exhibit is entered. My exhibits are entered in the Display Division which allows the inclusion of ephemera as well as postal artifacts. Each exhibit is eligible to receive one of the following medal level awards (in ascending order): bronze, silver bronze, silver, vermeil, and gold. Exhibits are also eligible for a number of special awards. In St. Louis my “America’s Membership Libraries” exhibit received a gold award, and the “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman” exhibit received a Vermeil award.  For both exhibits I was also recognized by The Ephemera Society of America for the use of ephemera in my exhibits. My primary motivation in exhibiting is telling the story of America’s libraries, but it's always nice to receive recognition for my efforts.  Incidentally, Hiram E. Deats was a world renowned philatelist and also a big supporter of libraries. Click Here for more information about Deats.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

St. Louis Mercantile Library


Last week while in St. Louis for a stamp show and a family visit I had the opportunity to visit the St. Louis Mercantile Library, one of our nation’s most unusual libraries. Because of my interest in membership libraries, I was already aware of the history of the Mercantile Library (click HERE to see previous post). I just had not had the opportunity to see it firsthand. I was very impressed. Fee based membership libraries in America had their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, and all but a few did not survive after the first couple of decades in the 20th century. Those that did survive did so by substantially revising their missions. In regard to its current mission this statement appears on the website of the St. Louis Mercantile Library: “The task of the Mercantile Library as a research library is to make its collections, which have come to concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, available to the widest number of local and national users.” The Mercantile Library has also entered into an arrangement with another institution to ensure its survival well into the future. The Mercantile Library is now part of the Libraries of the University of Missouri – St. Louis and shares a building with the Thomas Jefferson Library of the University. In addition to its extensive general historical collection the Mercantile Library is home to the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library, the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, and an extensive art collection. I had the privilege of participating in one of the excellent docent led tours of the Mercantile Library which take place on Saturday and Sunday each week. If you are ever in St. Louis I highly recommend a visit to the St. Louis Mercantile Library. A few pictures from my visit appear below.

A memorial for Clarence E. Miller who worked at the library for 67 years and was Librarian from 1941-1958.
One of the locked rare book cases.

A vintage card catalog no longer in use which contained the "Harvard size" catalog cards.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Aluminum Library Postcard, Manitowoc, WI, 1905



To my collection of unusual library postcards I have added an aluminum postcard that depicts the former Carnegie building of the Manitowoc (WI) Public Library. Manitowoc received a $25,000 Carnegie grant in 1902 and the new Carnegie building opened in 1904. It housed the public library until it was replaced in 1967, and unfortunately was razed after that. A brief history of the Manitowoc Public Library is located HERE. The postcard was mailed on Dec. 5, 1905 from Manitowoc to Sacramento, CA. In the first decade of the 20th century when postcards were in their heyday there were some pretty unusual postcards that made their way through the postal system. I've previously written about leather postcards and wooden postcards. There is an interesting aspect to this aluminum postcard. It doesn't have a stamp or a postmark cancellation. That is because when it was mailed it was enclosed in a clear outer envelope on which the stamp was placed and cancelled. There is a statement on the address side of the postcard which reads: "Not Mailable Except Under Cover". All of these unusual postcards were probably a huge headache for the mail clerks that had to deal with them.