Friday, January 23, 2015

A New View of an Old Graveyard

A wide variety of projects have resulted from readers using our historical collections. Occasionally we like to feature them in our blog ( In late 2014 I had the pleasure to meet Ronald Shaffer, who among his many activities serves as the president of the Old Pine Conservancy (, as well as a tour guide of the church’s graveyard.  Mr. Shaffer has been a frequent visitor to our main reading room immersing himself in Philadelphia’s past. One of the results of his labor is the Old Pine Conservancy graveyard self-guided tour guide reproduced below.

Suel-Gi Lee, a student at Moore College of Art and Design, created this map as part of an internship project.  To study the graveyard from different perspectives, Ms. Lee walked among the headstones at ground level and spent time on the roof deck of the adjacent Old Pine Community Center. Utilizing digital photography and knowledge about drawing spatial relationships gained from former art student Mr. Shaffer, Ms. Lee drew a map that depicts an overall view of the cemetery, while also highlighting specific markers. Old Pine Conservancy members chose the selected grave markers to emphasize the diversity of the nearly 5, 000 people buried in the graveyard. Additional maps are being planned by the Conservancy covering tour topics such as Yellow Fever, Sea Captains-Privateers, and Affairs of the Heart.
A desire to learn more about who was interred in the graveyard is what drew Mr. Shaffer to the Library Company. With the help of Chief of Reference Connie King, he researched the 275 Revolutionary War veterans buried at Old Pine. Using sources such as the multi-volume Pennsylvania Archives, Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia, and Scharf & Westcott’s History of Philadelphia, Shaffer and other volunteers created brief biographies for approximately half the Revolutionary War soldiers buried in the graveyard. With thousands of more names from the graveyard to investigate, we are sure to be seeing more of Mr. Shaffer in the months (and years!) to come.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Over There, Over Everywhere: The Aero Service Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia

The following post is by guest blogger Carl H. Winnefeld, Jr. who is mining our Aero Service Collection looking for photographs of company personnel and aircraft.  A former Aero Service employee, Winnefeld and colleagues are compiling this information for a website and potential future publication. Winnefeld stumbled upon the above photograph inspiring him to write the blog post below. The blog post was originally written for the World War One blog, Home Before the Leaves Fall. The Home Before the Leaves Fall website is an initiative of multiple cultural institutions in the Delaware Valley to digitize and make available their holdings related to World War One.  The Library Company’s World War One collection can be found on ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog, with the collection broken down into two sub-categories: World War One Posters and Photographs and Ephemera.  In addition, a selection of World War One posters appear on Flickr.

The Aero Service Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia contains material (primarily photographic images) acquired by the Aero Service Corporation and its president, Virgil Kauffman over a 40 year time frame. Aero Service was founded in Philadelphia in 1919 as Pennsylvania Aero Service and remained based in Philadelphia until 1973 when it relocated to Houston, Texas. The company operated on a worldwide basis.  Its primary business was aerial photography, photogrammetry (the use of photography in surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects), and remote sensing using an airborne magnetometer. In 1934 Aero Service worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority to map areas where the TVA was responsible for developing watershed resources. In 1947 Aero Service flew one of the first large airborne magnetometer surveys using Shoran navigation control over the Bahamas.
Jules Schick Photography, Virgil Kauffman, gelatin silver photograph, March 18, 1958. Library Company of Philadelphia

The Aero Service Corporation’s longtime president Virgil Kauffman (portrait above) was born in Yardley Pennsylvania in 1898. With the onset of World War I, Kauffman was assigned to the Corps of Engineers Photography School. The Army Air Corps utilized aerial photography for intelligence during the war and Kauffman was assigned to participate in the aerial reconnaissance missions, making this his introduction to aerial photography. After the war, he joined Aero Service in 1924 and directed the company from 1927 to 1961. His contributions to the scientific and technical world were wide ranging and significant. In 1966 he funded the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal to be awarded by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists for outstanding contribution in geophysical exploration.  Kauffman was associated with the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University from 1961 to 1985. Virgil Kauffman passed away in 1985.

The first image above shows the village of Blondefontaine, France in the winter of 1918 immediately after the war. Blondefontaine is located 285 kilometers. southeast of Paris. The village today looks very much as it did in 1918. The image below is a description of the scene written by Virgil Kauffman. The photograph provides a view of just how grim it must have been during the war years in France.
Verso of Street of Blondefontaine- Dec. 26-1918. Library Company of Philadelphia

Carl H. Winnefeld, Jr.
Guest Blogger for the Library Company of Philadelphia

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Word Pictures

The Morris Collection keeps on growing!  David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox and William Perot Morris recently added to the Library Company’s holdings of over 1600 of their grandfather’s photographs with a gift of travel journals by Marriott C. Morris and his daughter Jane as well as copies of letters written by Morris while attending Haverford College.

The letters, written by Morris between 1881 and 1885 to his mother Martha Canby Morris, reveal a bit of the young photographer’s personality.  Even from this relatively small sampling, the frequency with which the letters were sent and the affection they contained show a son devoted to his mother.  Morris’ familial dedication also extended to his sister Bess, for whom he often expressed concern and inquired after.  The letters also reveal a scholar who was serious about his studies – but not too serious.  Morris described his classes and lectures in a generally positive way, except for the subject of Trigonometry, which seems to have been a thorn in his side.  He expressed his distaste for the subject with a dash of dry humor in a letter written on November 9, 1883.  He wrote to his mother, “You little thought when you were comfortably seated at dinner yesterday that I was undergoing the horrors of that Trigonometry examination.  Yet it was even so.”  When he wasn't suffering through Trigonometry, Morris engaged in a variety of social activities with a large group of friends, including George Vaux, another member of a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family.  Morris’ letters described football games, dinner parties, sledding, and an intricate telegraph project conducted with Vaux.

Marriott C. Morris, Friend’s Library from girls door of school house, 1883
Even in these letters from his early Haverford days, Morris’ passion for photography is clear.  Morris frequently mentioned both finished prints and his photographic process when writing to his mother.  In a letter from October 25, 1883 Morris asked his mother to bring him two photographs he had mounted earlier that fall to decorate his room.  He remembered that one of the photographs depicted the library, but could not remember the subject of the other photograph, which was taken at the same time.

By matching the date of the letter with photographs in the Morris Collection, it is possible that the unknown second photograph could have been of the Morris family’s old house, Soldier’s Monument or the Quaker meeting house, all located in Germantown. 

A few months later, Morris wrote to his mother about some photographs he had taken with his friend George Vaux.  He called these photographs of the “fellows” and the class of ’87 “the best groups I have ever tried.”  Morris was proud of these photographs but also profited from them.  He told his mother that he planned to charge 20 cents per print and already had some orders. 

However, in this same letter Morris expressed frustration with his more recent photographs.  He wrote that he was trying out some new plates and had not yet perfected their use.  Similarly, in a letter from March 14, 1884 Morris wrote a long entry about his recent experimentation with a new wide angle lens.  Regardless of Martha Canby Morris’ comprehension or interest in the minute details of her son’s photographic practice, these surprisingly technical missives reveal Morris in the act of finding his way as a photographer and the genesis of his project to document his experiences and environment. 

Marriott C. Morris, “German Class” T.W.R., C.W.B., J.J.B., & L.L.S., 1883

The knowledge gained from these letters and journals enhances our understanding of Morris’ life and adds yet another layer of depth and complexity to the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ethiopian Bookbinding at the Library Company

Over the weekend of October 25th and 26th, the Library Company was the host site for a workshop on Ethiopian Bookbinding that was sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.  The Library Company conservators are all members or officers of the chapter and have organized a number of guild events over the years.  Ten students attended the workshop, which was taught by Bill Hanscom, a conservation technician for special collections at Harvard Library.  Bill has been researching Ethiopian bookbinding for a while and is currently writing an essay to be published in the next volume of Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding. 

At the beginning of the workshop, Bill showed images of Ethiopian bindings and explained the typical features.  Amazingly, many of the features have not changed for more than 1400 years.  He showed some videos of the books being made in a marketplace in Ethiopia. In one video, a man was squatting and working on the ground, applying paste to the covering leather with his hand.  Next, our group examined two Ethiopian bindings owned by the Library Company, one rather large and grand and the other very modest, almost primitive.  In the past, I always thought they were interesting bindings. But now that I knew more about how they were made and could identify the various features, I looked at them with new eyes!  It was very helpful for everyone to be able to examine authentic examples. 

Then we started working on our own historically accurate models. We shaped and pierced wooden boards.  We made sewing “thread” buy cutting a thin spiral out of a circle of parchment, and then moistening and twisting it into one long strand.  Most of us made three books, one covered in leather, one with a cloth wrapper called a “lebas,” and one with a parchment spine. 

Today, Ethiopian bindings are still made with only a few tools.  Unlike the man in the video, we worked sitting at tables, but tried to follow his technique otherwise.  For me, it is always inspirational to make a historical model. I try to imagine how various binding features evolved over time and to consider their purpose.  Was it structure, decoration, or tradition?  In many cases it could be all three.  But the most important thing is that it helps me know what I am looking at and what is important when I approach a binding in my work as a conservator.

Jennifer Rosner
Chief of Conservation

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two “van”-Tastic Persons

LCP’s Print Department boasts a collection of some 4000 printed portraits, stored within 52 archival boxes, ranging from Augustus H. Abbott to Ulrich Zwingli. Needless to say, entering all of these priceless items into the LCP database presents a daunting challenge, and encompasses an enormous number of man- (and woman-) hours!

The following are very brief biographies of several of the interesting individuals who reside within the portrait collection.

G. Parker, engraver after a miniature by C. Fraser, Stephen Van Rensselaer, engraving, ca. 1836.

This handsome gentleman, Stephen van Rensselaer (1764-1839), was born with multiple silver spoons in his mouth. The Dutch had awarded his ancestors a huge land grant in upstate New York, and Stephen had thrived within his vast rich family environment. He graduated from Harvard College in 1782. The following year, on his twenty-first birthday, he became lord of his family’s estate, which comprised almost 1200 square miles. As heir to this enormous estate, he was deemed the tenth richest American of all time, having amassed a fortune of $10 million (which was equivalent to 1/194 of the entire nation’s gross domestic product!). As a politician, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1795 until 1801. He served in the House of Representatives from 1822 to 1829. As a less-than-stellar military figure, he was a commander during the War of 1812.

His outstanding contribution, however, was the establishment of the Rensselaer School, now known as the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life”.

I. A. Van Amburgh, woodcut, ca. 1850.

Isaac A. Van Amburgh (1811-1865) was another New Yorker, but one not initially privy to such great wealth. At age nineteen, he was employed as a cage cleaner at North Salem’s Zoological Institute of New York. His boss noted that Isaac showed great aptitude in handling the wild animals while performing his menial cage duties. After spending a winter training his ferocious felines, Isaac –a true showman- made his New York debut in the Van Amburgh Menagerie, dazzlingly wrapped in a Roman toga. The crowd was amazed at his ability to make his cats sit still and then come to him on command. They were even more flabbergasted when he stuck his arm, and then his head, inside a lion’s mouth.

In truth, van Amburgh utilized one of the oldest training methods to “tame” his animals: cruelty, beatings and starvation, inhumane even by nineteenth century standards.  Suffering a fatal heart attack in 1865, van Amburgh died a wealthy man, not between the jaws of one of his lions, but within the confines of his own bed.

Gus Spector
LCP Volunteer