Our first full day event of the 2015 FABS Book Tour in Philadelphia opened at the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, The Free Library was founded in 1891 as the city's first public library system. It has the largest Rare Book Department of all American public libraries. Its first gift of rare books was received in 1899 from the Copinger-Widener Collection of Incunabula. Many other gifts followed including the Hampton L. Carson Collection of Growth and Development of the Common Law in 1929; John Frederik Lewis Collections of Cuneiform Tablets, European Manuscripts and Oriental Manuscripts donated in the 1930s; and the A. S. W. Rosenbach Collection of Early American Children's Books came in 1947. Additions to this department have also been endowed for years thanks to Simon Gratz, an original member of the board.
One of the most impressive bequests is that of William McIntire Elkins (1881-1947). This brought not only major collections of Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and Americana, but Elkins contributed his entire library room, furnishings, 62-foot paneling, art, sculpture, chandeliers and oriental rugs. There is even a raven, stuffed and encased in glass, Charles Dickens pet "Grip". It is said when Edgar Allan Poe visited Dickens, he saw this as his inspiration for "The Raven" poem.
The following additional treasures were displayed: Robert Louis Stephenson's Sketch Book, Beatrix Potter's books and accompanying correspondence, letters of various presidents, the entire G. A. Henty collection. In fact, Elkin's portrait as a young boy, hangs at one end of this room and he is holding a copy of a G. A. Henty book. There is also a large collection of Howard Pyle's Work and That of His Students.
This spring the major exhibit is "Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Imprints." Fraktur is manuscript folk art. It gets its name from the broken character of the letters used in writing birth and baptism certificates, music, religious books, house blessings and just about anything that hold paint. There are also decorations of birds, unicorns, flowers, eagles, angels, crowns, hearts, stars and many other figures. All are done in bright colors.
Jeanine Pollack, Head of the Rare Book Department is responsible for these whimsical displays of over 1,000 pieces, 2,000 books and broadsides. All are published by early German printers in America.
A. S. W. Rosenbach contributed his Children's Library of 18th and 19th Century Books. Miniature book collectors had a chance to view the 35+ pre-1900 thumb bibles donated by Ruth Adomeit, the most important collector of miniature books in the 20th century. (She, along with many others, set up a major endowment for the entire Rare Book Department.) All of the Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) books and those artist's books who have won the ALA's Caldecott Medal for the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children are presented here. Also, John Newbery, (1713-1767), is represented. He wrote and published "Little Goody Two Shoes" in 1766 and is known as the "Father of Children's Literature." The ALA has also created the John Newbery Medal for the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This collection is here. The entire Kate Greenaway, Thomas Lawson (Ferdinand the Bull), and Arthur Rackham Collections are complete and such a treat to see all together. (A side note: Joann Chalot, the founder of the Arthur Rackham Society and member of the Book Club of Detroit passed away this year.) Many thanks to those who helped put these displays together. This is a third floor library like none other. It inspires us to keep our libraries, both personal and public, filled with wonderful books and ephemera. Thank you!
Our next stop, right across the street, needs no explanation. The Barnes Foundation has presented its art works and ephemera is a stunning way, all mixed together. The main collections are Post-Impressionists and early Modern paintings. Dr. Albert Barnes, in a period of forty years, amassed a collection a sixty-nine Cezannes, sixty Matisses, forty-four Picassos and nearly two hundred Renoirs. In each Gallery these paintings are interspersed with brass, pewter, silver, and gold artifacts like keys, knobs, crosses, utensils, and locks. Furniture and sculpture are also well situated. It is a must see. Thank heavens we had head sets so the curators could help us enjoy all of these notable art works. We only had one hour, so that means another trip back to the Barnes for me!
Our bus stopped to pick us up for lunch at Asia on Parkway. All 53 hungry souls ate their way through each of the five courses. The conversation was constant discussing the mornings outings.
We all ended our lunch with fortune cookies promising us more good luck in the afternoon and evening events.
After boarding the bus, we headed for the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Library. The building is a 1927 Art Deco design, formerly home to Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. It is an extension of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The exhibits constantly change from a library which hold over 200,000 books, auction catalogs and periodicals as well as electronic displays. The present exhibit is "Notation and the Arts."
Music and Dance were well represented: a Nijinship "Faune" restored, a tune book of four part harmony, 1860 by the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, a display of Adelaide Hanscom Neeson's illustrations which were made famous when she published the illustrations in an Omar Khayyam "Rubaiyat", which can be seen on YouTube. Also presented was the Hindu Dance: eight principal ragas of the Auideus, showing ramchiri, the first strain, identifying the gesture language or hand and foot movements of the arrow, elephant, half-needle, crab and crow by Russell Mertwither in 1941, Also in the display case was a "staff" writing pen for music, and some original Shaker songs, a tune book of St. Michaels PM in 5-line staff, and a four-part harmony book, printed in Pittsfield, Mass. One of the most unique carving knives I've ever seen, had an ivory handle with a silver blade engraved in shape note notations. A video showed the history of Pavanne Roasalind, drawings of the LeParc en Desembre House Dress, Paris gowns and a French Autumn Coat. There were also "My Fair Lady" designs from the 19th century, four part singing in braille, ironwork with notations, and in fact, the library has John Cage's actual composition "Notations." Thank you for the wonderful explanations and displays. Fascinating!
Back on the bus we are traveling to the University of Pennsylvania's Rare Books and Fine Arts Libraries. We divided into two groups so we would have a better chance to see things up close and personal. My tour began with David N. McKnight, Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center in the Kislak Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
We began with a book titled "Biographies of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence" embellished with portraits, printed in Philadelphia, August 1824. Another rare book, Bo Phalanx's "History of Negro Soldiers of the United States In The Wars of 1770-1812, 1861-65" with 56 illustrations, by Joseph T. Wilson, printed by Winter and Company, Springfireld, Mass., 1887. From the Caroline Schiller Collection we saw the rare "Women In The Wilderness (American West)." They also hold histories of the White Star Line, the Wanamaker Family, and T. S. Eliot. Also comic books, old games and playing cards, artist's books, ophthomology (with scopes and spectacles), a golf and bookmark collection, and also a French Language Poetry Written Into English collection. Their medieval manuscripts are all on line, as is the first map of France 1809, and the Judaica, and the Art and Architecture Libraries.
But, when you open the doors to the Henry Charles Lea Library (1825-1909) you are in another world. A two-story library complete with cabinets, paneling, paintings, busts, statuary, books, manuscripts and portraits. We were fortunate to have Mitch Frost, curator, and Laura Adelock, assistant curator speak to us about the history of the University of Pennsylvania. It was founded by
Benjamin Franklin in 1740. It has all of Benjamin Franklin's printed works, a book with Franklin's notations throughout, and his passport. But encased in a small glass room, is Franklin's desk, wine pot, cane, spoon, dish, as if he was just there. His last book was "100 Best Principles (Codes) For Running A Government." (Obviously no one's read this lately!) There are only 4 known copies. (Maybe that's why!) Did you know he made a clock at 15? And, an astronomical chart at 16. Amazing!
The oldest object in the Library: "Codex: Aristotle, 850, manuscript; a prayer book for organizing the college-cunables; "Middle English Dictionary Boke," the first ever printed with phrases in Latin, with English printing (therefore, the spelling boke); a two volume Beehive of Daniel Prastorius (Germantown, PA). Laura spoke to two collections of Shakespeare: Furness and Forest (Actor). The first a 1611 Hamlet, play, and the second the 1676 Third Folio: Hamlet. What a place to work. This lovely room is so warm and inviting, with fireplace flanked by lions, and lovely old tile, bronze statuary all around…I think I could get a lot accomplished in this room!
book history. We were ready for dinner in the Van Pelt Library, set up with many circular tables with wine glasses clinking, and the buffet line ready to start. We just couldn't stop talking about
our wonderful day. Thank you to all the presenters, and to the Philobiblon Club for producing a flawless event. We loved every minute!…..What can they do to top this tomorrow!
Joan Knoertzer, Book Club of Detroit, Florida Bibliophile Society, Miniature Book Society, Clements Library of Americana University of Michigan