Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
Because Dana and I are primarily viewing the history of Bankers Trust Company through the eyes of Albert M. Greenfield- since we’re using his papers- we have come across other story lines relating to Greenfield and his numerous other ventures that continually weave in and out of the story of the bank. This is because Greenfield, who was involved in an overwhelming amount of businesses and projects in the city of Philadelphia and beyond, used Bankers Trust for pretty much all of his enterprises.
Unfortunately, though understandably, we can’t explore these other stories in depth since they’re not within the scope of our project. However, we do touch upon some of them in the annotations and contextual information that we’ll be providing.
One of the stories that we’ve focused on more than others, due to its especially close alignment with Bankers Trust Company, is the story of Bankers Securities Corporation. I’ve revisited the history of the beginnings of this investment firm as I’ve begun to proofread the 300 plus documents that Dana and I transcribed and encoded using TEI.
Bankers Trust Company came to serve as the springboard for Bankers Securities Corporation, an investment firm that Greenfield and Samuel H. Barker, president of Bankers Trust, established in the spring of 1928. Greenfield was elected chairman of the board, a position he held for 31 years.
Greenfield in the Bankers Securities Corp. board room,1957
From his letters to Greenfield, Barker appears to have been the mastermind behind this endeavor. He really began to push for the creation of a securities corporation only a few months after Bankers Trust was incorporated (December 1926). He emphasized the need to have an investment firm in order to substantially increase Bankers Trust’s business and profits.
Along with the boom in the real estate and banking industries during the 1920s, there was also a significant increase in securities companies. These companies served as bank affiliates that were created and owned or controlled by banks. They were able to deal in stock and bonds to an extent not permitted to banks.
In a letter to Greenfield dated July 8, 1927, Barker writes:
“The more I think of the matter, the more am I convinced that it is a step which ought to be taken very soon. I am sure it will result greatly to the advantage of Bankers Trust Company and its stockholders, and to our group in many direct and collateral ways.” (“Our group” most likely refers to the business syndicate of which Greenfield and Barker were members.)
Barker may have been onto something. Bankers Securities was worth $31 million not even a year after it was founded.
Barker explained Bankers Securities’ relationship to Bankers Trust in a letter to Bankers Trust Company’s stockholders:
“Bankers Securities corporate operations are entirely distinct from Bankers Trust Company, but both companies are being conducted to promote and supplement the activities of each other.”
In essence, Bankers Trust owned a large portion of Bankers Securities stock which it sold to its own stockholders. Bankers Securities owned a large portion of Bankers Trust’s stock, and served as the bank’s main depositor.
Needless to say, Bankers Securities became an extremely successful enterprise with numerous prominent investors including Greenfield’s friend, film producer William Fox, who for a time, along with Greenfield, was one of the corporation’s largest stockholders.
Bankers Securities was strong enough not to get dragged down alongside Bankers Trust, even though it had a significant amount on deposit and owned a large amount of stock at the time of the bank’s closing. It was largely due to the continued success of Bankers Securities that Greenfield did not lose everything after Bankers Trust’s failure.
Those who are interested in learning more about Bankers Securities Corporation should consult the Albert M. Greenfield papers (Collection 1959), which contain a plethora of materials and information about the company.
Daniel Rottenberg, “Once there was Greenfield,” Philadelphia Magazine (May 1976).
We recently finished processing the John Fryer papers (Collection 3465) and are very proud to have among his documents the original manuscript of the speech Fryer gave at the 1972 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The event is considered one of the most significant moments in the history of the gay-rights movement, persuading the APA to remove homosexuality from the list of diseases listed in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM II).
John Fryer was born in Kentucky in 1938 and, after attending Transylvania College and Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, relocated to the Philadelphia area, becoming a professor of Psychiatric Medicine at Temple University. Fryer had many patients at Temple University Hospital, Friends Hospital in northeast Philadelphia, and at his private practice in Germantown. He focused his therapy and research on drug and alcohol dependence, death and bereavement and in the later years of his life took particular interest in the needs of people suffering from AIDS. Fryer also was, for more than thirty years, organist and choirmaster at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Germantown.
Fryer’s papers at HSP cover all these aspects of his life and more. The collection is quite large, with more than 120 boxes containing correspondence, manuscripts of his writings, newspaper clippings, postcards, concert programs, music, church bulletins, documents produced during his years at Temple University, travel diaries, photographs, subject files, and materials that will be restricted to the public like patient records, student files, and Fryer’s own medical files. Customized enclosures constructed of archival materials have been created to house many of these materials.
Among all of Fryer’s papers one of the most interesting items is the manuscript of the speech he gave as Dr. H. Anonymous at the American Psychiatric Association’s 1972 Annual Meeting. I wrote the following as part of the collection’s background note.
In 1964 Dr. Franklin E. Kameny publicly criticized the listing of homosexuality as a disease or pathology in medical literature and in 1971 Kameny and other gay activists confronted psychiatrists attending the annual convention of the APA. As a result of this incident Kameny and Barbara Gittings, another well-known gay advocate, were invited to the 1972 meeting of the APA to make a presentation to help educate their members about homosexuality. Originally a panel composed of Kameny, Gittings and two psychiatrists, Gittings felt that what they needed was a person both a psychiatrist and gay. After making inquiries among people they knew, Fryer accepted on the condition of keeping his participation anonymous.
Fryer hadn’t yet acquired tenure at Temple, and had had several negative experiences with managers terminating his employment after discovering he was gay. Insisting on maintaining his identity a secret, Fryer called himself Dr. Henry Anonymous and wore a baggy suit, a mask, and used a microphone that distorted his voice. Starting his speech with the words “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist,” Fryer electrified an audience that found itself listening to a gay psychiatrist speak in a public forum for the first time. Fryer’s appearance had a galvanizing effect, playing a crucial role in prompting the APA in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its lists of mental disorders. Fryer did not reveal he was the man behind the mask until the 1994 APA annual meeting in Philadelphia. In recognition, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP) honored Fryer with its Distinguished Service Award in 2002.
To see the rest of Fryer's speech click on the image above and you'll be redirected to HSP's Digital Library.
Entries in one of Fryer's diaries reflect his feelings the day after the speech was given. And there are several documents in the collection (letter from Frank Kameny to Robert Spitzer, letter from Robert Spitzer to Fryer, letter from Fryer to Spitzer) that show that completely removing references to homosexuality from DSM II was not an easy process. By 1975, three years after the speech at the Dallas meeting, Kameny and Fryer were still exchanging correspondence with Robert Spitzer (who was the chairman of the Task Force in charge of DSM III) on the “re-introduction” of references to disorders caused by sexual orientation. It is not until the late 80s that APA removes all references to homosexuality from their Diagnostics and Statistical Manual. Content related to this important event from a 2002 article from Philadelphia Gay News can be found here.
By the end of Spring 2012 we expect to have a finding aid for the John Fryer collection with an inventory of all his papers available to researchers.
An earlier blog post gave a brief introduction of the Oliver H. Bair Company collection, which is now properly preserved and accessible to users at HSP. This collection is comprised of nearly 83,000 burial records that span the time of 1920 to 1980. There were many surprises within these records, and this post is going to highlight some of the most interesting people that were located within these records. Going into this project I did not give much thought about what kind of historical information I would be dealing with, but as the saying goes you never know what you will find until you actually go looking. Never before would I have associated baseball, Mother’s Day, and department stores together, but after processing the Oliver H. Bair collection I found a link between the three, and as you read on you’ll find that link too.
During a staff meeting I was informed that I should be on the lookout for two names that might appear in the collection. These names were Anna Marie Jarvis and Cornelius McGillicuddy. At the time I, along with my colleagues did not recognize either name, however one staff member asked the question “Isn’t McGillicuddy also known as Connie Mack?” That name rang a proverbial bell in my head (I am a baseball fan) and with those names fresh in my head I continued processing the collection. I first located the burial record of Anna Marie Jarvis, and once I did I conducted some research about her, and was very intrigued by what I found.
Anna Marie Jarvis was born in Webster, West Virginia, on May 1, 1864, and her mother was Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis. Ann Jarvis had established Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in multiple cities in an effort to improve sanitation conditions and to give basic medical aid to soldiers of the Civil War. Anna was greatly inspired by her mother’s work, and two years after her mother’s death in 1907 Anna held a memorial service in honor of her mother and vowed to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. The holiday was officially recognized in 1914, however within five years Anna was fighting the very holiday she helped create. Anna was unhappy with how the holiday had become commercialized, and detested the idea of only sending a greeting card and candy to a mother. She along with her sister Ellsinore spent the rest of their lives campaigning against Mother’s Day, which included once being arrested for disturbing the peace. The campaigning took all of the Jarvis’ resources, and Anna died penniless in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on November 24, 1948. She was buried on November 27, 1948, and she never married or had any children. The record of Anna Jarvis contained multiple newspaper clippings about her death, and demonstrated the tragic nature of her story as she had created something to honor a woman she admired so much, only to spend the rest of her life fighting the commercialization that, in her mind, corrupted the idea of the holiday.
The story of Anna Marie Jarvis is a tragic one, the second name I was given however, provided a bit more uplifting material. Cornelius McGillicuddy, more famously known as Connie Mack, managed the Philadelphia Athletics professional baseball team from their inception in 1901 to 1950. During his tenure the Athletics went 3,582-3,914 and won five World Series, while appearing in eight overall. As of 2012 the Athletics ballclub is located in Oakland, California, and moved to their current location in 1968, after they spent twelve years in Kansas City following their move from Philadelphia in 1954. The Athletics participated in the American League, while their cross-town rival Philadelphia Phillies played in the National League. Mack is recognized as the longest-serving manager in Major League Baseball history, and in 1937 was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His accomplishments were not only as a manager, as he played professional baseball for eleven years and spent multiple seasons on the Washington Senators and Pittsburgh Pirates roster. Mack was one of the most revered figures in baseball during his time, and due to his long tenure and success as manager of the Athletics, the stadium in which they played, Shibe Park was re-named Connie Mack Stadium in 1953 until its demolition in 1976. Mack died on February 8, 1956, and was buried on February 11, 1956. Connie Mack’s burial record can be found in the Oliver H. Bair collection, and while it does not contain the same amount of information as Anna Marie Jarvis’ records did, his record nonetheless opened up a door for myself to further learn about a sport that I enjoyed and participated in as a child.
The two previously mentioned names were names I knew about and were looking for in the collection, and while interesting and informational the fact that I knew about them took the surprise out of locating them. This was not the case with a final noteworthy person that I discovered in the collection. While processing records of March, 1950 I noticed the name Ellis Gimbel. The last name sounded familiar as Gimbels was a large department store chain, and the envelope containing Gimbel’s records was thick and filled with newspaper clippings. Upon investigating the articles and conducting an internet search I realized that I had located the burial records of Ellis Gimbel, former Chairman of the Boards for Gimbel Brothers, Inc. Gimbels was renowned for being a highly innovative and impressive department store chain that maintained stores in many of the United States most noteworthy cities, including Philadelphia, New York City, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, and Beverly Hills. Ellis Gimbel was the owner of the department store in Philadelphia, and is also credited as holding the first ever Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia. In 1920 Gimbel wanted to entice shoppers to visit the toy section of Gimbel’s department store so he sent fifty of his employees to perform and parade down the streets of Philly. This was the beginning of a Thanksgiving Day tradition that continues to this day. Gimbel passed away on March 17, 1950 and was buried two days later on March 19, 1950. As previously mentioned Gimbel’s burial record is filled with newspaper clippings covering his death, and the amount of press covering his death demonstrates his notoriety and displays the affection for him amongst the people of Philadelphia. Sometimes researchers will talk of an “Ah ha!” moment, which is when they locate something that ties their entire research/project together, or a piece of history that is just too interesting to pass-up. This was my “Ah ha!” moment, as I essentially stumbled upon the records of one of the most influential people in the early twentieth century, and I was not only able to learn something from the records, but I was also able to share it with others, and everyone benefitted from the information.
At the beginning of the blog I mentioned that I never would have linked Mother’s Day, baseball and department stores together, but thanks to the Oliver H. Bair collection, I found the connection, and benefitted from the information that presented itself, both as planned and by surprise. An old saying goes you never know what you will find unless you look, and in this case I found much more than I was bargaining for!
In the fall of 2011, through a generous grant by Ancestry.com I was given the task of re-housing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s largest funeral home collection, the Oliver H. Bair Company collection. The collection consists of over 1050 boxes of burial records that the company had amassed over six decades of operation, from 1920-1980 to be exact. My duties included organizing the collection, conducting minor upkeep on the records, and moving the collection from old, out of date boxes into newer, acid free boxes that will help preserve the records for decades to come. I have also been tasked with creating a finding aid for the collection, allowing researchers to locate information about the collection in our online catalog or to give them a better understanding of the collection when they visit HSP.
The Oliver H. Bair Company is a staple in the community in Philadelphia, and has been serving the area since 1878 when Oliver H. Bair founded the funeral company after he deemed that funeral services needed to be more personable and comforting to families during such an emotional time. The company began on 41 North Eighteenth St. in Philadelphia; however their most famous location is at 1820 Chestnut St in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2007 John J. Monaghan purchased the Oliver H. Bair Company, and the funeral home is now located at 8500 West Chester Pike in Upper Darby. Mr. Monaghan also owns the Monaghan Funeral Home, located at 612 Main St. in Red Hill.
The physical records that make up the Oliver H. Bair collection consist of a simple template, but include a wide variety of materials. Simply put the Oliver H. Bair collection is a compilation of burial records over the span of sixty years. There is a manila envelope that contains any and all information needed by Oliver H. Bair to conduct business with the deceased person’s family or designated agent. Within the envelope is an informational sheet that displays the deceased’s date of death, date of burial, biographical information, specifications for their burial, doctor’s notes, former residence, among other basic but pertinent information. Often there will also be some correspondence between the funeral home and family of the deceased discussing payment methods and dates. Some envelopes also contain newspaper clippings pertaining to the deceased, and most have short obituaries within the envelope as well. In rare cases the correspondence within an envelope can become quite lengthy, as occasionally law firms are contacted to aid in the bill collection process or to mediate family squabbles over what is to be done with the deceased person’s estate. Smaller objects have also appeared in the collection, including a coin purse (ironically with no coins inside, only paper) and a small book consisting of the deceased’s placement history while he served in the Navy. In the future a blog post (or two) will highlight some of the more remarkable records found in this collection, demonstrating that history and enlightenment can appear at any time. This collection is proving its value in multiple ways: it is not only helpful to genealogists tracing their family’s lineage, but also users interested in history and welcoming surprises as the records residing in this collection are full of stories, information, and of course, history!
The Cassel Collection (Collection 1610) is one of twenty-one collections documenting immigrant and ethnic history receiving processing, digitization, and conservation treatment as part of the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II. Abraham H. Cassel (1820-1908) was a collector of books and materials related to Pennsylvania German religious history. Highlights of the collection include illuminated hymnals from Ephrata Cloister and the Schwenkfelder Church, as well as a hymnal belonging to German Pietist and mystic Johannes Kelpius.
Many of the 47 volumes in the collection had cover boards that were partially or completely detached, and the conservation staff looked for new solutions to re-attaching the covers each time, as a solution that works for one volume might not work well on the next volume. One such volume was the Death register of the Ephrata Cloister 1728-1821. The front cover was completely separated, and a significant amount of spine leather was missing.
We decided to re-line the head and tail of the spine and secure the covers using airplane linen, covered by a layer of dyed Japanese tissue, adhered to the spine using wheat starch paste.
Pictured below is a close-up of the inside of the cover at the top of the book. To re-attach the cover board, the airplane linen and tissue we pasted to the spine was pulled to the inside of the book. Then we applied paste and inserted the cloth between the paper layers of the cover.
Most of the manuscripts in the Cassel collection were written with iron gall ink, the standard ink used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Ink recipes varied widely, and over time some inks corrode, depending on preparation, environmental conditions, and the condition of the paper. These holes created by the ink, familiar to many researchers, are known as lacing.
Pages from Arithmetiche Instructiones (1717), a book containing instructions for carrying out basic math functions along with completed practice exercises, displays extensive lacing in its heavily inked subtitles. Fragile areas were backed with Japanese tissue, toned to match the paper.
I’m sure many of you have seen the “What I Do” meme that did the rounds a while back. The meme itself is old news, but I recently stumbled across a “What I Do” image for archivists this week on the Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center blog. The author of the Syracuse University post is absolutely right -- archivists do actually combine all of these perceptions in their daily work. (Although we also do much, much more. All of the tasks depicted above are in the short job explanation I give to relatives at Christmas.) We get to go on hunts for researchers, dig through storage systems that have seen better days, handle an awful lot of things that necessitate lab coats and gloves -- or at least old clothes and frequent hand washing – and discover hidden treasure.
Treasure is subjective, of course, and the historical and physical context of an item usually determines its value. Most of the time archivists aren’t stumbling over relics of the Founding Fathers or the Ark of the Covenant, but finding small surprises like beautiful art or items that tell us something intimate or surprising about a person or collection. Here’s an example of something I found recently that is, I think, legitimately exciting, especially given the scope of the collection.
At first glance, the Batcheler, Hartshorne, and Sahlin families papers have nothing to with 19th century Japan. This is a Swedish-American family which boasts many influential members on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and in many different fields. The family tree contains a distinguished federal judge, a riksantikvarie (national archivist) of Sweden, a man who helped to build the first iron and steel mill in India, a museum director and vocal advocate of Swedish folk culture, a founder and director of the Swedish Institute in Rome, and a restoration architect who helped to preserve Philadelphia’s own Independence Hall. But what they don’t have is a famous 19th century ukiyo-e printmaker. Or anyone who studied Japanese art. Or, as far as I can tell, anyone who even had a passing interest in Japanese art.
Which is why I was surprised when I found 44 of these:
These are prints are part of a series that can be translated as "Rough Sketches of Japanese Geography" and were made by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist known as Hiroshige II. The first Hiroshige (Utagawa Hiroshige) lived from 1797 until 1858. After his death, two of his successors also used the name Hiroshige, but distinguished themselves by using different kanji in their signatures: Hiroshige II and Hiroshige III. These prints are signed with one of Hiroshige II’s signatures (signature "b" as seen here), so they date from between 1858 and 1865. They were tucked inside the back cover of a guestbook that Ellen Sahlin Hartshorne kept from 1914 until 1924. I didn’t scan an image of the guestbook, but just imagine an unassuming leather bound book with some red rot issues. It’s filled with signatures and well-wishes from friends who visited the farmhouse where she lived with her mother and later at her first home as a new bride.
The existence of the Japanese prints in this otherwise very Swedish and very American collection does have an explanation, of course. In October of 1913, Ellen and her mother, Gertrude Chandler Sahlin, took a long trip to visit Ellen’s brother, Bob, in Jamshedpur, India. Bob was working for the Tata Iron and Steel Company at the country’s first iron and steel mill (a job secured for him by his father, Axel Sahlin, who was part of the firm that managed the construction of the mill). After visiting Bob in India, Ellen and Gertrude made their way back to the United States by way of South Asia, China, and Japan, returning to the U.S. in March, 1914. This collection contains letters that they wrote back to Bob as they traveled, postcards, and a few photographs, but no artifacts from the trip. So the presence of these images was a very pleasant surprise.
It became more of a surprise when I had trouble finding information about this series of prints. Yale has a copy (although it's attributed to Hiroshige I), and there's a copy available via Google Books, but no one has written much this specific series. This is likely because Hiroshiges II and III are not as famous or collectable as the original Hiroshige, so they don't receive as much attention in print or online.
The guestbook is charming and valuable in and of itself (Ellen’s friends are terribly sincere), but the ukiyo-e prints are the real treasure here. After some conservation work, the 44 prints in this collection will be made available to researchers, but for now you can see all of the images in this blog post plus a few more in our Digital Library. Click on the main image itself or click on “zoom/more media.”
I'm excited to report that we've moved on to the next phase of the Greenfield Digital Project: researching and annotating our 324 selected primary-source documents.
After all, to really understand the impact of the 1930 failure of Bankers Trust Company, you need to know more about what it was like to live in Philadelphia during the 1920s and 1930s. People like Gifford Pinchot, William D. Gordon, and Moses Annenberg haven't made headlines in decades, and their roles in Philadelphia business and politics have faded from memory.
Gifford Pinchot, twice governor of Pennsylvania, circa 1932
(Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue collection, V07)
That's where our annotation comes in.
As we were transcribing each document into its own XML file (following the guidelines set out by the Text Encoding Initiative), we encoded personal names with the element <persName>. Each <persName> then references our master "personography" file, which provides more biographical information about that person and how he or she was involved in the Bankers Trust story.
Once the project goes online later this year, users will be able to roll over or click on the names encoded in the document transcriptions to learn more about that person.
We could have created mini-biographies in each document's XML file, but by compiling all the people into one master list instead, we can be more efficient and allow the documents themselves to help fill in the gaps on who these people were. For instance, I know by looking at the personography list that William Alsberg was a stock-owner in Bankers Trust in August 1929, just weeks before the stock market crash. R. M. was a typist who worked for Albert Greenfield in August 1931, and Mrs. Connery was a cleaner at Bankers Trust in 1927. Arthur Crossan, of Crossan Construction Company, served on the board of Bankers Trust Company in 1930.
When we first encountered "Mr. Netter" in a 1927 letter, we knew that he was somehow connected to the National Bank of Commerce, another Philadelphia bank. By the time we finished transcribing, we had learned that his full name is Jacob Netter, and he was the president of the National Bank of Commerce from 1915 to 1927, when it merged into Bankers Trust. He served as chairman of the Bankers Trust board from 1927 to the bank’s closure in 1930, and was also president of the Netter & Oppenheimer Clothing Company.
Jacob Netter, 1927 (Philadelphia Record
Photograph Morgue collection, V07)
Our personography list now has about 860 names, and we're just in the early stages of expanding its biographical details. We're doing similar research and annotation on another 600 or so businesses and organizations compiled in our "organization-ography" list. Due to time constraints, we won't have a chance to expand every name on those lists, but I look forward to shedding light on some of the key players involved in the Bankers Trust story in the months ahead.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is proud to announce that more than 6,100 collection level records are now available online through discover.hsp.org. Many of these records were previously unavailable online making this a valuable addition for researchers. Information on nearly every collection at HSP is now available on discover.hsp.org. These records provide a summary of each collection that will aid you in your research. Examples of materials never before described online include:
Kirk & Nice, Inc. business records: collection 3414 – An important archive of fairly detailed funeral records
Violet Oakley sketchbooks and engraving plates: collection 3336 and collection 3334 – Oakley was a predominant local woman artist of the 20th century
Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania Foundation records: Collection 3263 – interesting records of a WWI aid group, mostly ran by women
Balch institute mixed ethnicities sound recordings – A substantial group of audio collections.
All Library Company of Philadelphia manuscript collections housed at HSP
The road to near 100% online access to collection level description for HSP materials was not a simple path. The posting of information online itself is fairly simple, but I wanted to insure that the process was handled in a way that would utilize data HSP staff create in their day to day positions, and make certain that data was managed in a way that would make reuse and portability to future systems a more straightforward process than what we went through for this legacy data migration. In order to meet these goals I ended up massaging and then importing data from HSP’s aging access database, MANX, and importing its records into Archivists’ Toolkit. A series of scripts now run daily to take new data entered by staff from AT and import it into VuFind, which serves as the workhorse for our discover.hsp.org metasearch system that combines our separate information repositories in one accessible place.
This process insures that all of our data made accessible online stays as up to date as possible. Discover.hsp.org currently holds collection level records from AT, published material records from our Voyager OPAC, and information from our website www.hsp.org. Soon we will be adding information to Discover from our CollectiveAccess instance, digitallibrary.hsp.org. This will allow users to also find our digitized and born digital materials along with the rest of HSP holdings. All of this will make HSP materials easier to locate online allowing everyone to expand their research possibilities.
My work at HSP revolves around our manuscript collections, whether I'm processing, accessioning, researching, or paging. And I've dealt with many collections over the past several years of all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Because this work has become somewhat rote for me, and because so many collections regularly cross my desk, it's easy for me to overlook the unique facets of each. Our collections, known or unknown, each have human histories and carry along with them aspects of their creators. Two adopt-a-collections that I recently processed re-ignited the sense of specialness that our collections hold, even when they are not from the famous or known.
The Frank Gordon Bradley World War II correspondence (Collection 3548) came to us in 2010 and was adopted in 2011. In one small box were several hundred letters and v-mail from Bradley to his family, most still in their original envelopes, that had been carefully bundled according to Bradley's station. Bradley was born in Connecticut, enlisted in the army at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1942, and moved to Philadelphia after the war where he worked as a librarian. These letters offer a fairly complete view of Bradley's service from its beginning in 1942 to its end in late 1945. During that time he was stationed at a variety of U. S. bases and was eventually sent to Europe in late 1944.
Even though Bradley could not discuss the details of his work, his letters are far from boring. After reading through many of them, I got the sense that Bradley was happy with this choice to join the army but that he missed his family. He rarely mentioned major war events (in one letter he remarked that folks at home probably got news faster than he did) but some letters are markedly more anxious than others. Once he started writing from Europe, though he couldn’t mention his exact location, he painted vivid pictures of his surroundings, friends, and foes.
The Bradley letters are immensely human and are a remarkably rich archive of one man's experience during World War II that no doubt shed light on the incidents encounters by some but not all soldiers during that time.
A far cry from the simplicity of a chronological set of letters, the Brake and Wineman families papers (Collection 3606), which was adopted just this year, represents well the personalities that are sometimes found in collections of family papers. This small but vivid collection documents the industrious and agricultural lives of the Brake family and the Wineman family, both from central Pennsylvania. Covering most of the nineteenth century, this collection contains a nice assortment of various kinds of materials from the families, such as deeds, correspondence, volumes, photographs, and clippings. Neither the Brakes nor the Winemans were particularly "famous," but one family member, Solomon Brake, was an early adoptedrof electricity and owned a mid-nineteenth century farm that was fully lit with the help of an onsite power plant. The Civil War touched the lives of at least the Winemans – Private George Wineman (1840-1863) served in the Union Army and died at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Brake and Wineman papers is full of the things that would document any family and its contributions to its community; but it is the more private items, such as the collection's copy cooks, that highlight specific family member's personalities. There are four in the collection, and the one from the same George Wineman who fought and died during the Civil War, contains fantastic hand-drawn people, animals, and scenes.
This book dates from 1856 when George would have been around 16 years old. Encompassing the drawings are writings, problems, and exercises; but the number of drawings compared to the rest of the material in the book suggests that George may have been more interested in art than his studies. The fact that his life was cut short by the war compels one to consider just what he might have become if he had lived. An artist? A biologist? A designer? A farmer? While we can only speculate on an alternate reality for George, his book offers a clear window to his personality.
(A link to the Brake and Wineman families papers will be provided once the finding aid is ready.)
HSP's collections carry names big and small. While it's true that we have plenty of collections from elite families, mayors and governors, and famous organizations, we also have many more collections from folks who were only known in their backyards but served their purposes nonetheless. Whether farmer or artist, grocer or writer, these people from the background of history compelled it forward and serve as constant reminders of the humanity that is contained within manuscript collections.
For the last several weeks and for the next several weeks I'll be working with the Cassel Collection # 1610. So far, cataloguing and digitizing them for online use has been challenging.
Handling these often fragile volumes is something that requires delicate attention. They have fragile pages and tight binding which doesn't lend to being photographed easily. I often have to use a book cradle which, is two wedge shaped pieces of foam, to support the book. The cradles go underneath the book and when photographed from above the book usually looks slightly angled.
Due to the book cradles and the fact that the writing on these old volumes usually goes far into the gutter it is really important to try to get the pages to lay as flat as possible. This often means holding them in place gently, with clear mylar strips. You may have noticed on our Digital Library that some volumes have thin, strips running vertically in the image? That is what the images look like when they have to be secured in this way. While not ideal, this is the least intrusive way I have to gently secure pages for digitization while not covering up any of the information in a volume.
Photographing in this way requires a great deal of attention to: the angle and tension of the mylar. Pulling it too tight can cause unwanted reflections and/or damage to the book binding. As well, to photograph every page the mylar often has to be released and then re-positioned. This is because pages of old volumes are fragile and can be brittle. Any unnecessary friction between the mylar and the pages can cause damage and so extra care must be taken to avoid this.
Another interesting challenge to photographing Cassel volumes is the language barrier. The collection of volumes we have are in German, a language which I unfortunately cannot read or speak. This is particularly frustrating for me because I love to work with the collections at HSP. Understanding the content of the collection is part of this experience and when there are barriers, like this, it can make photographing a rather boring task.
This is unfortunate because the Abraham H Cassel collection has an intriguing set of volumes ranging in topics from the religious/mystical to practical advice about cooking, medicine and bee keeping. The collection demonstrates the taste of Abraham H Cassel who lived in Montgomery County, PA and whose life spanned the years 1820-1908. His passion for reading and collecting volumes existed during a time when acquiring something of interest meant traveling sometimes west of the Mississippi River! What is most surprising however, is that Mr.Cassel was literate at all. His only formal schooling was for six weeks when he was eleven years old. Raised on his family's farm, chores took up most his time. Until, he broke away completely to become a teacher at the age of 20. This unlikely career for his background was a cherished break and it was during this time that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Rhoads and was able to fill his academic passions.
After a seven year interlude from farming he returned to take over his family business and remained there until his death. The story of Mr. Cassel is in many ways as interesting as the content of his many volumes. Lucky for us, even if you can't read German script, you can enjoy HSP's finding aids which include biographical information about collections. To this end, I am grateful to know what I do about this collection and know that my work may give someone who can fully enjoy Cassel's volumes the opportunity to do so from anywhere in the world!