Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Envelopes of R. A. Brock of Virginia

Robert Alonzo Brock (1839-1914) served as the Corresponding Secretary and Librarian of the Virginia Historical Society from 1875 until 1892.  He also served as the Secretary for the Southern Historical Society.  While at the Virginia Historical Society he developed an extensive publications program.  So extensive in fact, that it brought the society to the brink of bankruptcy.  This situation caused his eventual removal from the post of Corresponding Secretary and Librarian by the society’s board.  The publications program of the society also generated a significant amount of correspondence.  Envelopes sent to or from libraries before 1900 are scarce.  So it is unusual that from various sources I have been able to acquire more than forty envelopes that have been sent to the Virginia Historical Society and the Southern Historical Society during the period when Brock was associated with the two historical societies. Most are addressed to R. A. Brock. The question arises as to who and why were the covers retained.  There is a good possibility that Brock, himself, may have saved the covers. In any case, at some point a large group of these envelopes passed into the hands of a stamp dealer and I am now the beneficiary of that action. Brock was a collector of rare books and the “Brock Collection” is located at the Huntington Library in California. More on R. A. Brock can be found in the July/August/September 2003 issue of Virginia Libraries.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Postcard for Memorial Day

Ninety-five years ago young men all across America were being mobilized to go to a far off war in Europe. The postcard above depicts some of these men at a YMCA library and mail station at Camp Dix, New Jersey. The caption on the back reads: "On the left are bundles of civilian clothing to be sent home by the new soldiers. On the right are soldiers sending home letters and purchasing postcards at the Y.M.C.A. Also library well stocked with good books." A postcard that combines the topics of mail, postcards, and a library - a nice find for a collector of postal librariana. A major appeal of the postcard, of course, is the soldiers themselves. A large number of library postcards show only relatively sterile buildings. I'm particularly interested in library postcards that show people using libraries. A surprising percentage of military library postcards do this. Although the American Library Association played a major role in providing libraries for service men in World War I, the YMCA, a much larger organization, also played a significant role in this area. Though there was some rivalry between the two organizations, ALA and the YMCA collaborated to a significant degree in providing reading matter for our troops in WWI. ALA maintained a full fledged camp library at Camp Dix during WWI (see postcard below).  In 1939 Camp Dix became Fort Dix and a permanent Army post. On a personal aside, my father went through Fort Dix on his way to Europe during World War II.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cincinnati's Mercantile Library

Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is one of an elite group of membership libraries that has survived into the 21st century. The library was established in 1835 which also puts it into the exclusive 175 year plus library club. I recently acquired an envelope that was mailed by the library on March 24, 1865 (see above). At that time the library was named the "Young Men's Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati" and the envelope indicates that there were 21,700 books in its catalogue. Of interest is the printed message at the top of the envelope which reads: "Donations are solicited of Autograph letters of prominent men especially as have an important bearing on the history of our country and of the recent rebellion. Due acknowledgement will be made and the letters carefully preserved for reference." The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati is one of the sixteen membership libraries that are included in the book America's Membership Libraries edited by Richard Wendorf (Oak Knoll Press, 2007). The article on Cincinnati's membership library is written by Albert Pyle, its Librarian. The most fascinating aspect of the library's history is the story of how its lease for space in the Mercantile Library Building (shown on postcard) came about. According to Pyle, the Mercantile Library moved into the Cincinnati College Building in 1840 but five years later the building burned. In return for a $10,000 advance on future rent in a new Cincinnati College Building, the library was granted a guarantee of space for 10,000 years. In 1869 just four years after the above envelope was mailed the new building also burned. The land, now vacant, on which the College Building stood became very valuable and a developer sought to build a multistory building on it. This could not be done, however, without the consent of the Mercantile Library because of its special lease agreement. As a result the Mercantile Library gained permanent free space on the 11th and 12th floors of the new commercial building which was named the Mercantile Library Building. As Pyle indicates "It is a very good lease." Like the other membership libraries that survive, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati has had to redefine itself over the years. It has become a literary and cultural institution which sponsors a variety of programs and lectures in addition to the continued lending of books.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mail Art

It doesn't take much to send me off on a tangent. This time it was a small label (2 3/4" x 3 1/2") which requested information about publications related to mail art. The label was distributed by John Held, Jr of the Fine arts Division of the Dallas Public Library in 1988 and was designed to be affixed to an envelope. Held's purpose was to develop "An Annotated Bibliography of Mail Art".  Held received hundreds of responses to his request and later published the results in the book Mail Art: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1991). What is mail art? [see Wikipedia's answer] [see Oberlin College's answer] Mail art encompasses a broad range of art forms. There is, of course, the official mail art of governments which takes the form of postage stamps. Artists and graphic designers from around the world design thousands of these each year. I had an earlier post about my favorite library postage stamp designer Bradbury Thompson. Another common mail art form is illustrated envelopes that are designed by cachet makers for the first day of issue of a new postage stamp. These are commonly called first day covers. I have hundreds of first day covers for library postage stamps in my collection. One of my favorite first day covers is for the 1982 Library of Congress postage stamp which is shown above. It was hand painted by cachet maker Judith Fogt. There is a more avant-garde aspect to mail art, however, and John Held is one of the foremost authorities on this genre of mail art. This format includes artistamps which are postage stamp like depictions that often carry an underlying message. Oberlin College has a collection of over 25,000 pieces of mail art. Some examples from their collection is located HERE. There's a nice variety of mail art depicted on this Pinterest site. The Library of Congress Center for the Book's Letters About Literature site has some interesting envelope art. Back for a moment to John Held, Jr. While at the Dallas Public Library, Held curated a major exhibit of library rubber stamps which I wrote about in this blog post.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Postal Librariana Exhibits Win Awards

My 10 frame public library exhibit

As I mentioned in a previous post I had three postal librariana exhibits on display at last week's Rocky Mountain Stamp Show in Denver. There are two audiences for philatelic exhibits at stamp shows. One audience is the general attendees of the stamp show who range from casual collectors to serious philatelists. The other audience is a team of exhibit judges who are certified by the American Philatelic Society. It is the later group which evaluate each exhibit based on established standards and determine whether the exhibit is worthy of a gold, vermeil, silver, silver/bronze, bronze, or certificate award. The judges can give multiple award of each type. The judges also give out special awards made available by national and local stamp organizations. Finally, they determine the best (grand) exhibit and the second best (reserve grand) exhibit. All of my exhibits are related to the history of libraries and as a promoter of library history I am most interested in telling the story of libraries to a general audience. However, that doesn't mean that I am adverse to having my exhibits judged highly from a philatelic perspective, and my exhibits are also prepared with this in mind. I was pleased that my multi-frame exhibit titled "America's Public Libraries and Their Forerunners 1731-1956" received a gold award at the Denver stamp show. It also received an award from the Collectors Club of Denver as the Best Multi-frame Display Division Exhibit and the Collectors Club of Chicago Philatelic Exhibitor's Award (this award came with a collection of 4 philatelic monographs published by the club). My one frame exhibit "Library Uses of Melvil Dewey's Postal Card" received a vermeil medal (between gold and silver) and an award from the United Postal Stationery Society as the Best One Frame Stationery Exhibit. Finally, for some unknown reason my one frame exhibit on the American Philatelic Research Library which I submitted as a non-competitive exhibit received a silver-bronze award. All the exhibit award winners for the Rocky Mountain Stamp Show are listed in a document called "Palmares".  While it's nice to receive awards from the judges, it was especially nice to receive positive feedback from the general attendees of the stamp show. (Note: I want this blog to be about library history and not about me, but every now and then I can't help but toot my own horn.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Laughing Librarian, A New Book Preview

McFarland & Company has just published The Laughing Librarian: A History of American Library Humor by Jeanette C. Smith. The book is a must have for anyone interested in library history and/or library humor. The book has forewords by the two greatest living library humorists - Will Manley and Norman D. Stevens which is more than enough to recommend the book. Smith is a New Mexico State University Library faculty member and a collector of library humor for almost four decades. My copy of the book is on order from Amazon, but Amazon provides a surprising amount of content via its "search inside this book" feature. Before ordering I was able to look at the table of contents and the index, read the two forewords and the introduction, and also read parts of some of the chapters. The book documents the history of library humor from 1876 up to the present. Some of the chapters include: Humors and Blunders; Batgirl Was a Librarian - Library Superheroes; Librarian Types and Stereotypes - She's a Keeper; Library Staff - They Also Serve; Shhh! - The Unforgivable Sin; The Fear Factor; For SEX, See the Librarian; and Joyfully Subversive. There are also chapters on Will Manley and Norman D. Stevens as well as on Edmund Lester Pearson, "The Main Guy".  Smith is a Fellow of the Molesworth Institute and the first recipient of the Edmund Lester Pearson Library Humor Award. I have to say that I am biased in recommending this books since I am also a Fellow of the Molesworth Institute and a recipient of the Edmund Lester Pearson Library Humor Award. I can't wait to get my hands on the actual book!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Postal Librariana Exhibits in Denver

The Rocky Mountain Stamp Show will take place later in the week in Denver, CO, and I will have three exhibits of my postal librariana collection on display. For the last month I have been busy revising my 10 frame, 160 page exhibit that is now titled "American's Public Libraries and Their Forerunners 1731-1956". It has been three years since I displayed the previous version of this exhibit. It includes more than 300 individual postal and supportive artifacts related to the topic of the exhibit. The title page for the exhibit is shown above. I will also show my one frame exhibit titled "Library Uses of Melvil Dewey's Postal Card", and a non-competitive one frame exhibit on the American Philatelic Research Library

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Antioch Bookplates

I first became aware of Antioch Bookplates in 2009 while researching an envelope addressed to Ernest Morgan, Secretary of the Bookplate Collectors Club, Antioch College Library, Yellow Springs, Ohio. That research resulted in a post on this blog about the envelope. Recently at a local stamp show I came across a 1942 copy of the catalog for Antioch Bookplates. It is a really neat piece of ephemera. The catalog which measures 9 inches by 4 inches is 32 pages in length and has illustrations for hundreds of bookplates.  In addition, two actual bookplates are tipped in to the catalog (one is shown above) and five more bookplates were enclosed loose. The bookplate designs in the catalog represent the work of more than 75 artists. Of special interest was a description of the Bookplate Collectors Club and how it worked on the back cover of the catalog (see scan above).  One of the blogs that I follow is Lew Jaffe's Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie. Although Antioch Bookplates went out of business, its designs have been resurrected by the company Bookplate Ink. In a guest post for Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie in 2010, Karen Gardner, the CEO of Bookplate Ink, provided a history of the Antioch Bookplate Company and Bookplate Ink. I thought Lew's addendum to Karen's post provided a great perspective on the bookplates produced by Antioch Bookplates. Although, I don't consider myself an avid collector of bookplates I've ended up with a nice collection of library bookplates and have become more interested in this collectible category. I was surprised to see how many posts I have written on the topic of library bookplates, and I also have a webpage on library bookplates. One final note about the Antioch Bookplates catalog. One of the categories of bookplates sold by the company was "Card Pocket Bookplates" which came with instructions for setting up your own personal lending library. See the illustration below.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Library That's Located in 2 Countries

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House sits astride the international boundary between the United States and Canada. One part of the building is in Derby Line, Vermont and the other is in Stanstead, Quebec (which includes the former town of Rock Island). A black line runs through the building to designate the border.  The Library and Opera House was deliberately built on the border with a gift from Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell. It was dedicated to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The building was completed in 1904. The initial intent was that the proceeds from the Opera House would support the operation of the Library. The Library and Opera House are operated as a non-profit corporation. The use of the library is free just like any public library. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How the Library Catalog Card Transformed the Business World

In his book Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011) Markus Krajewski tells the fascinating story (to a library history buff) of how the idea of putting information on individual pieces of paper and filing them in a prescribed manner became a significant tool in the world of business in the U.S. and Europe. Krajewski's story begins with Konrad Gessner, a 16th century doctor, and the methodology he used to compile his publication Bibliotheca Universalis. It is Krajewski's description of the role played by the Library Bureau company, founded by Melvil Dewey, in transferring library catalog card methodology to the business world, however, that I found most interesting. Krajewski recounts both the development of the use of catalog cards by libraries in the U.S. and the early struggles of Library Bureau as a business.  Krajewski reveals that it was E. W. Sherman, a female accountant working for Library Bureau, and not Dewey, who recognized the practical application of library catalog card filing methodology to business. Her experimentation with the use of catalog cards for accounting records was the initial stimulus for Library Bureau's expansion into the business world which proved immensely successful. Krajewski writes: "In 1909 Library Bureau controls more that 10 factories, 32 agent offices in American and European cities, and 3,000 office workers. A small department for library supplies overcomes financial plights and turns into a thriving corporation, opening a hitherto virtually nonexistent market."  The business world adopted the methodology of the catalog card and index to such a degree that by 1929, the ending point of Krajewski's history, a card file is on practically every business desk. Krajewski quotes this testimonial from a 1929 German business equipment catalog: "Card catalogs can maintain order among tens of thousands of small and large items in the warehouse management of large industrial plants, they can structure any number of addresses in personnel departments, they can control the movement of hundreds of thousands of people in urban registration offices, they can make themselves useful in bookkeeping departments of commercial offices, i.e. as open account catalogs, etc. etc. Card catalogs can do anything!" Markus Krajewski is Associate Professor of Media History at the Bauhaus University, Weimar, Germany. I first became aware of his work when he commented on one of my most popular posts about the playing cards repurposed by the French as library catalog cards in the late 18th century. My description of Karjewski's book doesn't do it justice. I highly recommend that you read it yourself. The 18th century french catalog card repurposed from a playing card shown below is from my collection of three such cards.