Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum

Unlike the American Library Association members who celebrated ALA's jubilee in Philadelphia in 1926, members attending the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia in January 2014 will be unable to visit one of America's most influential commercial museums and libraries. According to a history of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum on the website of the Independence Seaport Museum, "Opened in 1897 at 34th and South Streets, the Commercial Museum was the turn of the century United States' greatest resource for international trade information, essentially serving the role of the not-yet-existent federal International Trade Administration." The website history indicates that when the Commercial Museum finally closed on July 1, 1994, "it was a shadow of its former self". I became aware of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum after acquiring a 1919 postal card (shown above) mailed by the museum's library to the Swiss Information Office for the Purchase and Marketing of Goods in Zurich, Switzerland in which it acknowledges the receipt of a publication. The Annual Report of the Mayor of Philadelphia for 1913 describes the museum's library as follows: "This is a public reference library comprising the principal commercial publications of all governments, and a great variety of trade literature, consular reports, books, magazines and periodicals bearing on geography and commerce. In its special line it is recognized to be the best equipped library in the United States." As the Commercial Museum scaled down and finally closed its collections were dispersed to other museums and libraries in the Philadelphia area including the Independence Seaport Museum. It is a sad thing when a once great institution is no more.

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