University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The History of the University of Rochester Libraries-120 Years, Chp. 12

Volume XXV · Spring 1970 · Number 3
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years

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Rare Books and Manuscripts

The 1950's also saw for the first time the formal creation of a department for the care and service of the library's growing collections of significant rare books, historical and literary manuscripts, local history books and manuscripts, and the University archives. This unit was to be known as the Department of Special Collections. Starting in 1969 it was referred to as the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives. 

Little had been done in the first seventy years of the library's existence actively to collect rare books and manuscripts. Rare books and manuscripts in the library's possession were acquired piecemeal by gifts through the years. Little also had been accomplished in establishing a formal program for the care and preservation of archives. Archival materials were accumulated somewhat casually and were stored in University attics and basements. 

Gilchrist had instituted the first directed changes in the acquisition of these materials during his administration in the twenties and thirties. One of his concerns was with the trend toward dispersal of local history collections outside of the Rochester area, some going to New York City and Washington, D. C., others being scattered through public auction. To prevent this, Gilchrist started to purchase local history collections of books and manuscripts and encouraged the acquisition of others by gift. As a result of this effort, the library acquired three large collections of western New York material which had been owned by C. Walter Smith, a member of the class of 1885 of the University, a prominent Rochester businessman, and a descendant of one of Rochester's oldest families; and by R. W. G. Vail, prominent librarian; and by Rear Admiral Franklin Hanford of Scottsville. By these acquisitions the library came into possession of practically all the most important works in the field of western New York history. 

Originally the scope of the collecting included material relating only to central and western New York, with greater emphasis on Rochester and the area immediately surrounding it. With the development of the collection of historical manuscripts, however, the need for material covering a wider area became obvious, so that today materials relating to all of upstate New York are collected. The book and pamphlet collection includes myriad works on New York State and Rochester history with greater emphasis on subjects of peculiar interest to western New Yorkers; for example, the Iroquois Indians, contemporary works on the rise of modern spiritualism in Rochester, the Antimasonic movement, the Mormons, the Erie and Barge canals, railroads, and New York State church history. 

The local history collection has some unusual features. One is the collection of both records and books of an old subscription library which was started in 1805 in the nearby town of Wheatland, and which was continued in active existence until 1875. Known as "The Farmers' Library," it is now preserved as a separate unit and contains some eight hundred volumes which include a well-rounded selection of English and American literature, the classics in translation, a few periodicals, and many books of distinctly practical nature. Another unusual collection is the technical library of the Ellwanger and Barry company which was active in the nursery business in Rochester from 1840 until 1918. It includes some 1,700 horticultural and botanical periodicals and monographs of the nineteenth century. 

After 1930, with a new library and its physical facilities for the care of rare books and manuscripts, Gilchrist devoted much time to encouraging friends of the library and alumni to give their significant book and manuscript collections to the library. He also initiated the organizing and cataloging of some of the archives, and appointed part-time assistants for archives and rare books and literary manuscripts. 

Thus, a start had been made in collecting and preserving by the time Russell was appointed librarian in 1940. Russell, who was experienced in archival work, soon recommended that archives be given official status in the library. A series of archival regulations, which also made the library the official depository, and the director of libraries, the archivist, was then approved by the Board of Trustees. 

An active program for collecting historical manuscripts was carried on in the 1940's by President Valentine and Russell. The two men, with the assistance of Glyndon G. Van Deusen, professor of history, wrote and visited numbers of people in the Rochester area, New York State, and in other parts of the country, who had collections of historical significance. Russell continued this policy in the 1950's and 1960's and attracted to the library manuscript collections important to the study of 19th and 20th century social and political history, along with fine acquisitions in literary and theater manuscripts and rare books. 

The historical manuscripts collections reflect some of the same interests as the local history book and pamphlet collection, but they are more often broader in scope, and appeal to a much wider circle. Probably most noteworthy are the manuscripts in the area of nineteenth century political history. There are the personal and public papers of William Henry Seward, Governor of New York State, United States Senator, and Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Containing about 150,000 items, they stand alone as an unusual collection of source material for the student of nineteenth century politics and of the Civil War era. The value of the collection is enhanced by several other collections of political manuscripts, the Thurlow Weed, the George M. Grier, and the George Washington Patterson papers. The Seward collection and related papers have been used as source materials for hundreds of articles, history papers, theses and dissertations, and books. 

Along with the material found in the Seward and Weed papers are several collections which provide source material on the antislavery movement in the nineteenth century. There is an important collection of letters written by Frederick Douglass, famous abolitionist, and other antislavery items in the Loren Jesse Ames papers, Fish family papers, Mrs. Mary H. (Post) Hallowell papers, and the Samuel Drummond Porter papers. 

Twentieth century political history is represented in the papers of New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey, twice a Republican candidate for president of the United States; United States Senator Kenneth B. Keating, now ambassador to India; United States Congressman Frank J. Horton; William Roy Vallance, State Department official; Marion B. Folsom, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Dwight D. Eisenhower; the New York State Constitutional Convention, 1967, and of the National Committee of Democrats-for-Willkie. Collections which emphasize scientific interests are the papers of Lewis Henry Morgan, once called the "father of American anthropology"; Herman LeRoy Fairchild, Rochester professor of geology and natural history, whose particular interest was the geology of the Genesee Valley and upper New York; Carl Akeley, famous for his work as a naturalist and explorer; Henry Augustus Ward, founder of Ward's Natural Science Establishment and a pioneer in modern museum methods. Also, Ira S. Wile, whose interests were in the fields of psychology, sociology, child health, mental hygiene, and birth control; Ellwanger and Barry nursery firm; Agricultural Improvement Association of New York State, an association devoted to studying ways to cultivate abandoned farms. Also, Chester Dewey, clergyman, educator, and pioneer scientist, whose papers consist largely of meteorological observations; Edward Mott Moore, prominent Rochester physician, whose papers describe his early medical training and career. Also, the Rochester Academy of Science, a scientific society which began the publication and distribution of its Proceedings in 1889; the Milton S. Baxter botanical correspondence, and the Edwin E. Howell diaries, which relate to geological surveys of the Colorado River. 

There is a large number of family papers which provide good source materials for the study of the social history of the nineteenth century. Typical of these are the Nathaniel Rochester family papers, the Breese-Stevens-Roby family papers, and the correspondence of the Schermerhorn family (Letters from the Hedges) of Rochester and Cortland County, all of which reveal a fine picture of social life and customs in the nineteenth century. Later materials which fall in this category are the papers of prominent Rochesterians Charles H. Wiltsie and James P. B. Duffy 

Rochester business and industry are represented by the Edward G. Miner papers and the Leo Hart Printing Company papers. The Miner papers include the personal papers of the family and the official and business papers of the Pfaudler Company, now part of the Sybron Corporation. The Hart papers include items relating to the development and activities of the printing company and its successors. 

Other important collections include the papers of the late George J. Skivington, prominent Rochester attorney, who collected manuscripts and other material relating to the very early history of the Genesee region. The complicated story of the division and sale of lands in western New York and the correspondence of John Grieg, agent of the Pulteney, Hornby, and Colquhoun estates, forms the backbone of the collection. Surveyors' records, maps, deeds, leases, and accounts are included. These materials are augmented by a large number of account books, deeds, and papers relating to land titles. 

There also are the papers of James W. Colt, a railroad engineer, who was involved in the expansion of American interests in the Near East; the Bragdon family papers which are particularly important because of their emphasis on Claude Fayette Bragdon, noted architect, publisher, and stage designer, and the King family papers which are important for a diary kept by Bradford King, Rochesterian, and son of Gideon King who settled at King's Landing on the Genesee River in 1797. The diary covers the period from 1811 to 1874. The personal papers and sermons of two prominent Rochester Unitarian ministers, Willing Channing Gannett and David Rhys Williams, also are preserved. In addition to Unitarianism, the Gannett papers are important for their materials relating to woman suffrage and the education of freedmen during the Civil War. The parent collection of the library's literary and theater manuscripts was that given by Charles A. Brown, class of 1879, in 1914. Since that time hundreds of items have been added through gift and purchase. In the collection of literary manuscripts there are the letters of many English and American literary figures; a series of twenty-seven letters of Alexandre Dumas (fils); a series of seventeen long "autobiographical epistles" written by Robert Southey in the 1820s; and the manuscripts of writers of the New England School, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier and others. Among the more recent acquisitions are materials written by or relating to Lady Georgiana Chatterton, the Coleridge family, Eliza Cook, Mrs. Pearl M.T. Craigie, Benjamin Leopold Farjeon, James Anthony Froude, John Francis Heath-Stubbs, Henry Kett, Walter Savage Landor, Colin MacInnes, William Hurrell Mallock, Gerald Massey, Somerset Maugham, John Mitford, Max Pemberton, the Powys family, Alfred Bate Richards, Samuel Smiles, Meredith Starr, Tom Taylor, Edward John Thompson, James Turner, and Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton. 

In the 1940's, the library, following the initiative of Professor Wilbur Dunkel of the University's English Department, started the acquisition of manuscripts and autographs important to the study of drama. The collection consists of correspondence of persons connected with the theater, chiefly in England, in the nineteenth century. Included are letters from dramatists, actors and actresses, managers, costume and set designers, and journalists; namely, Sir George Alexander, Sir Squire Bancroft, Dion Boucicault, Dion George Boucicault, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, David Garrick, Sir Henry Irving, Sir Henry Arthur Jones, Charles John Kean, Ellen (Tree) Kean, William Charles Macready, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, Dame Ellen Terry, John Lawrence Toole, Irene Vanbrugh, and Sir Charles Wyndam. 

Among the important items in the collection is the "first clear copy manuscript" of Milestones, together with two scenarios of this play by Arnold Bennett and Edward Knoblock. Moreover, there are 135 letters written by the two playwrights to one another during the years from their collaboration on Milestones in 1912 until Bennett's last illness in 1931. 

These materials are augmented by another large group of theater manuscripts and letters in the Clement Scott Papers. Scott, a noted British author and journalist, corresponded with persons connected with the theater in England, France, and America in the late nineteenth century, and authors, journalists, artists, and musicians including David Belasco, Arthur Bourchier, Katherine Conway, Clyde Fitch, Clotilde Inez Mary Graves, John Maddison Morton, Walter Herries Pollock, Edmund Routledge, and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. 

The rare book collection numbers approximately 10,000 volumes. Within the general collection are a number of smaller collections. There is, for instance, a fine collection of significant editions of several American authors: Mark Twain, Washington Irving, Henry James, William Dean Howells, and the New England School of Writers. There is a representative collection of first editions of the works of many of the English authors of the eighteenth century, notably Swift, Pope, Defoe, Goldsmith, and Johnson. English drama is well represented, beginning with the Ben Jonson folio of 1616, and continuing with the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Shirley, Heywood, Dryden, Otway, Congreve, Rowe, Lee, Gay, Steele, Thomson, and their contemporaries. 

First and most important editions of books regarded as landmarks in the history of science, technology, medicine, social and political history are represented, and there are well over one hundred incunabula. A collection of early children's books numbers some six hundred volumes. Included are books published by the American Tract Society in the early nineteenth century, and such favorites as the "Dolly Dimple" series and books by Louisa May Alcott, Mrs. Ewing, G. A. Henty, H. C. Castlemon, Horatio Alger, Oliver Optic, Joel Chandler Harris, Kate Greenaway, and R. Caldecott. Most of them are in their original bindings, and many of them are first editions. 

Since 1930 the library has gradually built up, by gift and occasional purchase, a collection of books from American and English private presses which show different styles in fine printing and fine illustration. Some of the well-known presses and designers represented are Ashendene, Doves, Kelmscott, Eragny, Cranach, Golden Cockerel, Cuala, Bruce Rogers, Grabhorn, John Henry Nash, Pynson Printers, Limited Editions, and Nonesuch. 

All of these collections were acquired and developed by Russell without the benefit of a major source of income devoted to rare books and manuscripts. One of the few funds Russell did have to work with was one contributed by Mrs. Charles Hoeing who in 1941 began a series of gifts to provide a special collection of rare books in memory of her husband, former Dean of the College for Men. Not until the mid-1960's did the library have the benefit of endowed funds specified for the collection of rarities. Some of these moneys were part of funds established by the estate of George F. Bowerman, a personal friend of Russell's and former librarian of the Washington, D. C., public library; by the estate of Vera Tweddell, former circulation librarian of the University of Rochester; and from a University fund established by Trustee and Mrs. Joseph C. Wilson.

Library History continued >>