Monday, April 14, 2014

So Who Really Made the First American Flag?

Every school student has been taught that George Washington and his committee tasked Mrs. Elizabeth Ross, a milliner whose business was located between 2nd and 3rd on Arch Street, with the creation of the first American flag. Supposedly, the agile seamstress dazzled this group of august gentlemen by quickly snipping out one of the now-famous five-pointed stars with only one clip of her scissors.

The first postcard portrays the home of Betsy Ross as it appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. Strangely, the card’s caption reads “The First Flag of the U. S. was made in this House by Mrs. A. Mund,” and a small replica of the flag, suspended from the second story, bears the inscription “The first flag was made in this house. Mrs. A. Mund.” Who was this woman, and why was her name linked to the famous Flag House?

P.2013.77.1.14 Home of Betsy Ross postcard, ca. 1907. Gift of Philippa Campbell.

In 1876 or 1877 Philip Mund opened a beer saloon at 239 Arch Street. Forty-five years later, his widow, Mrs. Amelia Mund, now proprietress of the saloon, aware of the importance of this historic building thought to have been the Ross establishment, noted that there had never been a sign identifying it as the site where the first American flag had been produced.

So, mystery solved: This postcard’s creator mistakenly combined the statements on that advertising signage. It should have read, “The first flag was made in this house,” (period, end!), and should have been followed by the statement: “This building was later owned by Mrs. A. Mund.”

In 1937, a donation of $25,000 by Philadelphia radio magnate A. Atwater Kent paid for the necessary radical surgery that was performed on the dwelling’s interior and exterior. The second postcard view, circa 1950, shows the front doorway moved to the far right corner and the original plate glass window replaced by a shuttered pane. The building to its left, purchased by Kent, was later renovated into a courtyard.

P.2013.77.1.48 Betsy Ross Flag House postcard, ca. 1950. Gift of Philippa Campbell.

These two views are from a collection of more than 230 Philadelphia postcards generously donated to the Library Company in 2013 by Ms. Philippa Campbell. They are currently being processed into the LCP postcard database.

Gus Spector
LCP Volunteer

Friday, April 4, 2014

Except New Jersey

Francis Hopkinson trade card, ca. 1769.

In fall 2013 the Library Company seized upon the tremendous opportunity to acquire the Joe Freedman Collection of Philadelphia Ephemera. A boon to our visual culture holdings, I have recently had the privilege to begin to process this extraordinary collection of over 900 items that speak to the everyday lives of past Philadelphians.

Starting with the path of least resistance, that is, pockets of the collection already somewhat organized by genre, I have begun my archival journey with early trade cards. Unlike the trade cards that come to mind for the Victorian period, these advertising gems serve as specimens of early types and ornaments, verbose and telling promotional text, and the artistry of those who designed in extreme miniature. The materials offer a history of trade card design with cards more indicative of small prints like Francis Hopkinson’s circa 1769 advertisement for his cloth business to mid-19th century ticket-size missives more reminiscent of today’s business cards.

Davis & Birney trade card, ca. 1850.

A few favorites so far include this circa 1850 trade card for Philadelphia commercial agents Davis & Birney. They refer recipients to a long list of references as well as the notice that Birney is “Commissioner for all the States, (Except New Jersey).” Another is this circa 1848 card for the American Hotel. The modern design aesthetic reminds me of magazine advertisements from the1920s.
American Hotel, ca. 1848.

Although smitten with the collection since I was first fortunate to review it, my infatuation with it continues to grow with each piece. With treasures to be found on the front and back of each card from the graphics, text, and personal inscriptions so often left behind, my unending inquisitiveness about the history of Philadelphia’s visual culture thankfully continues on with new acquisition like the Freedman Collection.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs
Co-Director, VCP at LCP   

Monday, March 10, 2014

The French High Commission’s Visit to Philadelphia

7066.Q.11: Marshall Joffre, Viviani, Mayor Smith, Samual Vauclain at Franklin's grave

The Library Company of Philadelphia is one of many institutions in the Delaware Valley region preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. Along with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the College of Physicians and others, the Library Company is contributing to a digital exhibit that highlights our World War I-era resources. The project will go live on the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 2014 at, and will continue to commemorate the Great War over the next four years. After spending this fall working as a digital collections intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in January I moved next door to intern with the Library Company of Philadelphia. As an intern, I have the opportunity to explore the Library Company’s World War I-related collections, and call attention to items that grab my interest. Hopefully this blog post will be one of many, as I work my way through LCP’s fascinating collections of World War I photographs and posters.

On April 2, 1917, nearly three years after World War I had broken out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson appealed to the United States Congress to declare war on Germany. President Wilson cited two reasons for seeking a congressional declaration of war: Germany’s continued use of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and Germany's attempt to recruit Mexico as an ally. Two days later the U.S. Senate voted to declare war, and the House gave its support on April 8.

In response to the American declaration of war, both the British and French governments sent representatives to the United States. RenĂ© Viviani, the Minister of Justice and Public Information led the French Commission, which also included Marshal Joseph Joffre, “the Victor of the Marne,” Admiral Cocheprat, and Joseph Smith from the Ministry of Finance, among others. The French Commission arrived in the United States on April 24, 1917, and made their way to Washington, D.C. Over the next two weeks, the French representatives also visited Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Illinois, before arriving in Philadelphia on May 9.

7066.Q.3: J.P. Widener, Dr. E. La Plos, Marshal Joffre, Viviani [May 9, 1917]

On May 6, the Pittsburgh Press reported that Dario Resta, “speed king of America,” had volunteered his driving skills to act as Marshal Joffre’s chauffeur while the commission visited Philadelphia. Mayor Thomas B. Smith guided Viviani, Joffre, and guests through “lavish entertainment,” which included visits to Benjamin Franklin’s grave and the University of Pennsylvania, where Viviani and Joffre received honorary doctor of law degrees. When the commission reached the Liberty Bell, Viviani kissed the both bell and his host, Mayor Smith.
7066.Q.6: Exercise held in front of Franklin statue. University of Penna. Marshal Joffre Phila, Pa
Over 100,000 spectators lined Philadelphia’s streets as the French Commission made its way through the city. Philadelphians formally paid their respects to the visiting French dignitaries by presenting Marshal Joffre with a sword during his five and a half hour visit.

7066.Q.15: Marshal Joffre and Katherine Lee showing Joseph P. Widener

Although this selection of photographs captures the festive nature of the French Commission’s visit to Philadelphia, the French sought more than just displays of American enthusiasm and fraternity. In a luncheon speech, Minister Viviani emphasized:

“We are here in order to respond to earnest and solemn words which in the Hall of Independence, this morning, were spoken by representatives of various creeds, and to which your Mayor has just alluded. We are here in order to rise above even the joy of such moments: we are here in order earnestly to consult with one another concerning the gigantic task the hands of our common enemy thrust first upon us, and next upon you.”
The French had been sending their soldiers into the trenches on the Western Front for three years. For Viviani, this was a war not of territory and conquest but of liberty. To conclude his speech in Philadelphia, Viviani described the flags of the allied nations as one unified banner:
 “The flag of humanity, the flag which waves so high that it can be seen by all men in the world: a flag that shines so radiant that all men on earth long to see the promises of liberty of equality and justice which its folds contain and announce, shower down on all the earth.”

Becca Solnit
LCP Intern

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tamar Stone: Book Artist

In honor of Women’s History Month, we have invited Tamar Stone to write a guest entry for us.

The untitled Pink Corset Book (c2000) 

As a visual artist, I can't say enough good things about the Library Company. I truly believe that it is one of those institutions that has made my life so much richer for having the opportunity to use its resources and to be able to work with the incredible staff. I always look forward to doing more research there.

I make artist books. These are one-of-a-kind pieces that use antique textiles to speak to various issues that women faced in the past. My central interest is how women were bound physically, as well as metaphorically, throughout history (either by fashion or rules of society). Many of the issues – like women's dissatisfaction with their own bodies – are still relevant today.

I first learned about the Library Company in 2004 because of its participation in the “Picturing Women” exhibition. The brainchild of art historian Susan Shifrin, “Picturing Women” juxtaposed contemporary artwork and historical objects to promote dialogue about representations, and self-representations, of female identity. The Library Company was both one of the show’s three simultaneous venues and the repository of many of the show’s nearly 200 pieces.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would have to go and see as much of the show as I could. The exhibition contained so much information, and being able to see documents that I might not have been aware of otherwise was invaluable to a visual artist like myself. I am still using the notes I took at the time today.

Exhibition installation shot, in Re-framing Representations of Women. Susan Shifrin, ed. (2008).
Used by permission of the publishers from ‘Fashioning the Female Body’, in Re-framing Representations of Women edited by Susan Shifrin (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008), p. 88.  Copyright © 2008

While searching the collection, it was a delight to find some really obscure fashion-related items, such as this poem dedicated to the bustle, The Bustle: A Philosophical and Moral Poem (Boston, 1845), ostensibly written by “the most extraordinary man of the age.” Although it's been almost ten years since I read that poem, I am excited to have the opportunity to use this information on a current project I have just started about the fashions of bustles and crinolines.

Other pieces I create feature embroidered stories on beds. The more I read about women’s lives being constricted by their clothes and social mores, the more I became interested in women’s beds. The bed played a central role in the full spectrum of a woman’s life, from birth to death.

H.T.W.E. [“...his thanks was enough...” ]

My most recent bed piece, H.T.W.E. [ “...his thanks was enough...” ] is about women’s work during the Civil War. This project began with my interest in Florence Nightingale and her hospital reform work during the Crimean War. What she accomplished would change the way nurses and the field of nursing would be considered from that point onward (both on the battlefield and at home). Inspired by Nightingale, many women joined the war as volunteers – following their husbands and brothers into the battle fields. Others disguised themselves as men in order to partake in the action at the front lines. It is their bed-oriented stories and experiences that fill this folding army cot. For example, I had the pleasure of discovering and reading Sarah Emma Edmonds’ book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields (Hartford, 1865). 

Postscript from Cornelia King, Curator of Women’s History at the Library Company:
Please join us on Wednesday, April 9th, when Susan Shifrin will speak at the kick-off event for the Library Company’s new Program in Women’s History. Dr. Shifrin will speak about the “Picturing Women” project. We are very pleased that one of Tamar Stone’s pieces will also be on display during the event.

Register online for the event. Make that link to: