Archival Adventures in Small Repositories

Archival Surveying in Style at Glen Foerd

Thursday, 10/27/11

One of the perks about working on the HCI-PSAR project is that, rather than sitting in the basement stacks of a dusty archives all day, my co-surveyor Michael and I get to explore all different types of places in search of archival gold. Recently we enjoyed a backstage pass to the exquisite Glen Foerd on the Delaware, a historic estate on the Delaware River in Torresdale, Philadelphia.

Float for Vici Kid leather, the specialty of Robert H. Foerderer, Inc.
The Glen Foerd estate was built in 1850 by Charles Macalester, founder of Torresdale, and Financial Adviser to eight United States Presidents. The estate was purchased in 1893 by Robert H. Foerderer, who would later become a U.S. Congressman (1900-1903). Foerderer was rich from his self-titled leather manufacturing and tanning business, which was particularly well-known for its fine quality "Vici Kid" leather. The estate eventually passed to his daughter, Florence Foerderer Tonner, who was an avid collector of art. She assembled one of the most extensive private collections of prints in the country, and donated a world-class collection of William Blake works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art upon her death. She also amassed a valuable collection of Bibles, including Martin Luther's own Latin Bible from which he translated, and the first Bible ever printed in America.

As archivists, we admired but did not attempt to classify the antique furnishings and priceless artwork at Glen Foerd. We focused on the manuscripts, photographs, and other archival materials we found cached around the mansion. The highlight of Glen Foerd's holdings, to our minds, is a collection of family papers from the Foerderers and Tonners. The papers feature nearly fifty pocket diaries that belonged to William Tonner (Florence's husband) and document his daily life over half a century, 1898-1948. There is also some Florence Tonner correspondence with and about various artists, including Philadelphia local Violet Oakley. Additional financial records and other papers document the family's history fairly extensively, and span about 100 years, circa 1870-1970.

See all finding aids for Glen Foerd on the Delaware.

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