Archive for May, 2012

The Envelopes of R. A. Brock of Virginia

May 31st, 2012



Robert Alonzo Brock (1839-1914) served as the Corresponding Secretary and Librarian of the Virginia Historical Society from 1875 until 1892.  He also served as the Secretary for the Southern Historical Society.  While at the Virginia Historical Society he developed an extensive publications program.  So extensive in fact, that it brought the society to the brink of bankruptcy.  This situation caused his eventual removal from the post of Corresponding Secretary and Librarian by the society’s board.  The publications program of the society also generated a significant amount of correspondence.  Envelopes sent to or from libraries before 1900 are scarce.  So it is unusual that from various sources I have been able to acquire more than forty envelopes that have been sent to the Virginia Historical Society and the Southern Historical Society during the period when Brock was associated with the two historical societies. Most are addressed to R. A. Brock. The question arises as to who and why were the covers retained.  There is a good possibility that Brock, himself, may have saved the covers. In any case, at some point a large group of these envelopes passed into the hands of a stamp dealer and I am now the beneficiary of that action. Brock was a collector of rare books and the “Brock Collection” is located at the Huntington Library in California. More on R. A. Brock can be found in the July/August/September 2003 issue of Virginia Libraries.

Read a Rare Book This Summer

May 30th, 2012

The San Francisco Public Library’s summer reading program Summer Read SF 2012 begins on June 1. Many readers enjoy books throughout the year, yet there is something inviting about summer reading that encourages one to stretch out a bit: perhaps to spend more time reading while on vacation; to indulge in purely entertaining reading; or to undertake a weighty tome that one has always wanted to complete. In the spirit of adding something new to one’s summer reading regimen, consider reading  a rare book in the Donohue Rare Book Room. The Rare Book Room has nearly 17,000 volumes cataloged in Ignacio, ranging from early printed books to contemporary artists’ books. Most titles are printed in English and many can be enjoyed in one or two visits. Experience the unique opportunity of spending time among Gleeson Library’s special collections with a signed first edition or a deluxe illustrated book. Aside from the singularity of it, imagine how fun it will be to answer the question “have you read any good books this summer?”

Donohue Rare Book Room summer hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For further information, please call (415) 422-2036.

John Hawk
Head Librarian, Special Collections & University Archives


A Postcard for Memorial Day

May 28th, 2012
Ninety-five years ago young men all across America were being mobilized to go to a far off war in Europe. The postcard above depicts some of these men at a YMCA library and mail station at Camp Dix, New Jersey. The caption on the back reads: "On the left are bundles of civilian clothing to be sent home by the new soldiers. On the right are soldiers sending home letters and purchasing postcards at the Y.M.C.A. Also library well stocked with good books." A postcard that combines the topics of mail, postcards, and a library - a nice find for a collector of postal librariana. A major appeal of the postcard, of course, is the soldiers themselves. A large number of library postcards show only relatively sterile buildings. I'm particularly interested in library postcards that show people using libraries. A surprising percentage of military library postcards do this. Although the American Library Association played a major role in providing libraries for service men in World War I, the YMCA, a much larger organization, also played a significant role in this area. Though there was some rivalry between the two organizations, ALA and the YMCA collaborated to a significant degree in providing reading matter for our troops in WWI. ALA maintained a full fledged camp library at Camp Dix during WWI (see postcard below).  In 1939 Camp Dix became Fort Dix and a permanent Army post. On a personal aside, my father went through Fort Dix on his way to Europe during World War II.

Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library

May 27th, 2012
Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is one of an elite group of membership libraries that has survived into the 21st century. The library was established in 1835 which also puts it into the exclusive 175 year plus library club. I recently acquired an envelope that was mailed by the library on March 24, 1865 (see above). At that time the library was named the "Young Men's Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati" and the envelope indicates that there were 21,700 books in its catalogue. Of interest is the printed message at the top of the envelope which reads: "Donations are solicited of Autograph letters of prominent men especially as have an important bearing on the history of our country and of the recent rebellion. Due acknowledgement will be made and the letters carefully preserved for reference." The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati is one of the sixteen membership libraries that are included in the book America's Membership Libraries edited by Richard Wendorf (Oak Knoll Press, 2007). The article on Cincinnati's membership library is written by Albert Pyle, its Librarian. The most fascinating aspect of the library's history is the story of how its lease for space in the Mercantile Library Building (shown on postcard) came about. According to Pyle, the Mercantile Library moved into the Cincinnati College Building in 1840 but five years later the building burned. In return for a $10,000 advance on future rent in a new Cincinnati College Building, the library was granted a guarantee of space for 10,000 years. In 1869 just four years after the above envelope was mailed the new building also burned. The land, now vacant, on which the College Building stood became very valuable and a developer sought to build a multistory building on it. This could not be done, however, without the consent of the Mercantile Library because of its special lease agreement. As a result the Mercantile Library gained permanent free space on the 11th and 12th floors of the new commercial building which was named the Mercantile Library Building. As Pyle indicates "It is a very good lease." Like the other membership libraries that survive, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati has had to redefine itself over the years. It has become a literary and cultural institution which sponsors a variety of programs and lectures in addition to the continued lending of books.

Mail Art

May 26th, 2012

It doesn't take much to send me off on a tangent. This time it was a small label (2 3/4" x 3 1/2") which requested information about publications related to mail art. The label was distributed by John Held, Jr of the Fine arts Division of the Dallas Public Library in 1988 and was designed to be affixed to an envelope. Held's purpose was to develop "An Annotated Bibliography of Mail Art".  Held received hundreds of responses to his request and later published the results in the book Mail Art: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1991). What is mail art? [see Wikipedia's answer] [see Oberlin College's answer] Mail art encompasses a broad range of art forms. There is, of course, the official mail art of governments which takes the form of postage stamps. Artists and graphic designers from around the world design thousands of these each year. I had an earlier post about my favorite library postage stamp designer Bradbury Thompson. Another common mail art form is illustrated envelopes that are designed by cachet makers for the first day of issue of a new postage stamp. These are commonly called first day covers. I have hundreds of first day covers for library postage stamps in my collection. One of my favorite first day covers is for the 1982 Library of Congress postage stamp which is shown above. It was hand painted by cachet maker Judith Fogt. There is a more avant-garde aspect to mail art, however, and John Held is one of the foremost authorities on this genre of mail art. This format includes artistamps which are postage stamp like depictions that often carry an underlying message. Oberlin College has a collection of over 25,000 pieces of mail art. Some examples from their collection is located HERE. There's a nice variety of mail art depicted on this Pinterest site. The Library of Congress Center for the Book's Letters About Literature site has some interesting envelope art. Back for a moment to John Held, Jr. While at the Dallas Public Library, Held curated a major exhibit of library rubber stamps which I wrote about in this blog post.