Cultural Record Keepers

The images and information below are excerpted from the "Cultural Record Keepers" feature from past issues of Libraries & the Cultural Record.

For 29 years, Libraries & Culture and the Journal of Library History featured a bookplate on the cover. (See the Bookplate Archive). With the new cover design of Libraries & the Cultural Record, presentation of this artwork moved to inside pages and has expanded to include images from libraries, archives, museums, and other keepers of the cultural record.

Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 45, number 3

Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Chicago Public Library

Vivian Harsh bookplate

Bookplate courtesy of the Chicago Public Library

When Vivian G. Harsh was appointed to head Chicago's new George Cleveland Hall Branch Library in 1932, she seized the opportunity to capture the African American experience through the written word. Her mission was twofold: to use the library as a platform for fledgling writers and to build a collection of materials by African Americans and about the African American experience. Read the full article to learn about Harsh's development of the Special Negro Collection and some of its more recent acquisitions.

Emily Guss, University of Illinois-Chicago

Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 44, number 4

The Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge

Linen Hall Library bookplate

Bookplate courtesy of Linen Hall Library, Belfast

The "worthy plebeians" of the Belfast Reading Society established a subscription library in the economically and intellectually ambitious town of Belfast, Ireland, in May 1788 in the Enlightenment spirit of self-improvement through education. The Linen Hall Library remains the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscription library in Ireland. Read the full article to learn about the motifs in Vinycomb's bookplate and to see the library's redesigned bookplate that reflected their new "open door" policy adopted in the 1990s.

Hans C. Rasmussen, Louisiana State University

Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 44, number 3


Bookplate of the English Book Donation,

Chicago Public Library


English Book donation bookplate

Bookplate courtesy of Chicago Public Library Archives

This story begins on the evening of October 8, 1871, when the Great Chicago Fire began to ravage the city. The destruction was almost complete, including the loss of all 30,000 volumes of the Chicago Library Association, the city’s largest subscription library.  Read on to learn how the English Book Donation would lead to Chicago's free public library.

Constance Gordon, Chicago Public Library Archives

Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 43, number 4


Littlefield Fund for Southern History

University Libraries

University of Texas at Austin


Bookplate courtesy of University Libraries, University of Texas at Austin.


Since its establishment in 1914, the Littlefield Fund for Southern History at the University of Texas at Austin has assembled in the archives and libraries of the university an incomparable resource for research on the eleven states of the South and their place in American history. Learn more about George Washington Littlefield (1842-1920) and his desire to correct the inadequacies of history textbooks that misrepresented the contributions of the South.

David B. Gracy II, University of Texas at Austin


Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 43, number 3  


Beth Budd Bentley Collection

Obsorne Collection of Early Children's Books

Toronto Public Library


Bookplate courtesy of the Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Library.


The Infant's Library, published in 1800 by John Marshall of London, consists of sixteen miniature juvenile books housed in an elegant wooden box, cleverly decorated to resemble a library bookcase. Minnesotan Beth Budd Bentley had collected early children's books for years before she was acquired this item from a book dealer. Together with Stacey Grimaldi's A Suit of Armour for Youth (1825) and complementary Grimaldi materials, it became the focal point of her collection of early rare children's works. When this collection required a proper case, Bentley and her husband, Professor G. E. (Jerry) Bentley, Jr., commissioned a bookcase to be constructed by the cabinetmaker Jeff Cooper after the design of The Infant's Library.

After many years of enjoyment, Bentley parted with her treasures in 2002, placing them in the Toronto Public Library's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books. In honor of the gift, the Friends of the Osborne and Lillian H. Smith Collections commissioned a special bookplate to be designed by the Canadian artist Eric Beddows. Beddows made use of Bentley's rebus, three bees, in producing a bookplate that represents not only the gift but also the light heart and free spirit of the giver.

Born and raised in Montevideo, Minnesota, Bentley became a resident of Canada following extended stays in England and travels on the Continent. She spent her career as an instructor at the Toronto French School and at schools in Chicago and Algiers, introducing children to the books that had been the joy of her own cheerful childhood. Bentley's gift to the Toronto Public Library was celebrated on June 22, 2002, coinciding with both her fiftieth wedding anniversary and the tenth anniversary of her husband's completing a bibliographic listing of her collection—the work of many surreptitious hours stolen from his own studies of the author William Blake.

The establishment of the Osborne Collection in 1949, brought about by a donation from Edgar Osborne, county librarian of Derbyshire, England, marked a transition in the history of children's services at the Toronto Public Library. Influential throughout Canada since 1912, these services had grown from offering book selection, promotion, programming, and outreach models to a new level of reference support. With the addition of Edgar Osborne's two thousand early children's books, through which Osborne hoped to foster literary and cultural ties to England, the Toronto Public Library undertook to support historical research and studies in children's literature. Over the years, the collection's mandate expanded to encompass the breadth of children's book history in Canada. The 2002 addition of Bentley's collection brought new depth not only to the holdings of early materials but also to the collection of popular and series books, particularly imports from the United States that had been widely enjoyed by children in Canada but largely omitted from retrospective collections.

Full-text article

Leslie McGrath, Head, Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books, Toronto Public Library


Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 43, number 2  


The Myron Eells Northwest History Collection

Whitman College


Bookplate courtesy of Whitman College and Northwest Archives


Myron Eells (1843–1907) was a Pacific Northwest native, missionary, scholar, and collector. His books, papers, and artifacts, which were donated to Whitman College after his death, became important nuclei of the college's library, archives, and museum. Today these collections are curated by the Whitman College and Northwest Archives and the Maxey Museum at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

Myron Eells graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, in 1866 and worked on the family farm in Walla Walla for two years before deciding to study for the ministry. The president of Pacific had told Eells that he was “a pretty good specimen of an Oregonian” but that he needed “to go east and become an American.” Eells did go east, graduated from Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut in 1871, and then returned to the Northwest. After a few years in Boise, Idaho, in 1874 he moved to the Skokomish Reservation, west of Puget Sound, where his brother was the Indian agent. There Eells spent the remainder of his life as a missionary to the Indian tribes and white settlers.

Beginning with articles he wrote for the newspaper in Walla Walla, Eells began to realize “a literary turn.” The nature of his work on the reservation shaped Eells's religious, historical, and anthropological research interests and provided him with time to read and write. Eells started building his personal library in 1868, before he traveled east. In his library catalog, with entries numbered in order of accession, Eells recorded the title and amount (or, if donated, source) of each book he acquired. In each book, usually on simple nameplates or calling cards, he recorded its accession number, year of acquisition, and cost.

Before 1877 most of the books Eells had acquired formed a fairly typical minister's library. But as his research and writing intensified, Eells's library began to change. Around 1875 Eells began adding entries in his library catalog for scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, pamphlet collections, manuscripts, and other personal papers.

In addition and parallel to collecting for his library, to support his research Eells collected artifacts for an Indian cabinet and historical manuscripts that documented early missionary activities in the Northwest.

Within a month of his death most of Eells's collections were at Whitman College. A trustee and supporter of his father's school, Eells had helped start the college library when the school began offering college curricula in 1882. And the college library, which received Eells's eighteen hundred–volume library, grew by more than 10 percent and obtained the nucleus for its first significant special collection.

One-third of the volumes in Eells's library were related to the history of Northwest Native Americans, explorations, pioneers, missionaries, and institutions. While a majority of these volumes were books, a number were pamphlets and scrapbooks.

The bookplate that was made for Eells's Northwest library consisted of a coat of arms with three swimming eels on it, with this explanation below: “The arms of Major Samuel Eells of Hingham, Mass., dated August 1, 1705.” The whole design is nearly identical to the frontispiece used for a book on the genealogy of the Eells family that had been published a few years earlier.

That Eells's Northwest library quickly became the Eells Northwest History Collection signified that Eells had created much more than a library. Indeed, the Eells Collection became the nucleus for much more than a growing library of Northwest history. Today the material that Eells created, collected, and left to Whitman College may be found in the Myron Eells Library of Northwest History, the Northwest Manuscripts Collection, the College Archives, and the Maxey Museum.

Full-text article

Michael J. Paulus, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, Whitman College and Northwest Archives, Walla Walla, Washington



Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 43, number 1  


Bruce Rogers Papers Book Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries


Image courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Archives & Special Collections.


Throughout his long and fruitful career as a typographer, book designer, and printing advisor, Bruce Rogers never lost sight of the fact that type was first and foremost a functional medium that was meant to be read, not merely admired. This bookplate, designed by Rogers in 1944 for H. Stanley Marcus, co-owner of the Neiman Marcus department store chain, clearly demonstrates the simple elegance that is the hallmark of its creator, with the clean, smooth lines of the lettering and its easy readability.

The illustrations above the type reflect the characteristics of their master. What is most striking about Rogers's art is his keen sense of balance and order. The bird in the upper left corner is balanced by the star. The cactus in the center is balanced by the jackrabbit beside it, which was an intentional reference to Marcus's Texan heritage. Even the dust cloud, perhaps a reference to the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, leaves the viewer with a sense of pleasant symmetry. The sparse openness of dry desert plains in this work stands in marked contrast to the image of opulence and plenty that many associate with the Neiman Marcus empire.

Today, the Bruce Rogers Book Collection of the Archives and Special Collections Library is one of the most comprehensive assemblages of its kind relating to the life and works of the famous designer. The library also possesses an archival collection of Bruce Rogers's papers, including correspondence, samples of his work, photographs, printed materials, and ephemera.

Stanley Marcus himself was an avid book collector who was especially fond of the work of Bruce Rogers. At one point he even offered to underwrite the cost of a new series of works to be designed by Rogers. Marcus eventually amassed one of the largest Rogers collections in private hands, which was no mean feat given that most of the books Rogers designed did not bear his name. However, Marcus was proud of the bookplate that the seventy-four-year-old legend created for him, although, perhaps ironically, Rogers forgot to include his trademark initials, "BR," before the final printing. Today, Marcus's collection of Rogers-designed books is part of the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University.

Although it is not clear when the first archival material was first collected at Purdue, it is known that major manuscript collections were acquired as early as 1940, when George Putnam donated the papersof his wife, Amelia Earhart, to the university. Among the holdings of Archives and Special Collections are many gems, including the papers of Nobel Prize–winning chemist Herbert C. Brown; manuscripts by authors George Ade and Charles Major; the working papers of time and motion study pioneers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (best known for being documented in the book Cheaper by the Dozen); and original cartoons by Pulitzer Prize winner and dean of American cartoonists John T. McCutcheon. The papers and publications of major figures in Purdue's history, such as presidents, faculty, and notable alumni, are also part of the holdings of Archives and Special Collections.

Full-text article

Amanda C. Grossman and Sammie L. Morris, Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries


Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 42, number 4  


Image courtesy of Clifford J. Alexander.


The New York Mercantile Library and Its Home Delivery Service


In 1866 the Board of Direction of the Mercantile Library Association of New York (hereafter referred to as the Mercantile Library) instituted a service in which books were delivered to the residences of their members. Shown above is a copy of a five-cent stamp affixed to a Mercantile Library delivery check, circa 1871, depicting one format in which the five-cent yellow-and-black delivery stamp was sold. Members would purchase a check and then detach the left portion and place it on a book order form, which they would deposit in postal collection boxes within New York City.

Mercantile libraries were one of the many types of membership libraries that existed in eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-century America. The Mercantile Library in New York was established in 1820 and was the second mercantile library established in this country. By the 1860s it was one of the largest and busiest libraries in the nation. With the exception of the fact that participants were charged fees, mercantile libraries operated much like modern public libraries. In particular, the Mercantile Library in New York was as aggressive in its marketing and service orientation as any "give them what they want" public library of the twenty-first century.



The New York Mercantile Library advertised its services on the reverse side of this book order form for home delivery, dated 1875. Courtesy John D. Bowman.


The establishment of the home delivery service was a business decision based on both economics and service to the members of the Mercantile Library. In the beginning the library established collection boxes to pick up book orders for home delivery at fourteen locations above 23rd Street. Books were delivered to the residences of members by horse and wagon. The payment of the fee for home delivery was made by the purchase of delivery stamps similar to postage stamps. The stamps were affixed to a book order form and placed in a collection box.

In 1873 the Board of Direction decided that although the home delivery service was of great convenience to some members, the difference between cost and profit did not justify the continuation of the service and the service was discontinued. In a quick turnabout, however, the board reinstituted the service a year later on October 1, 1874.

The delivery service continued with various modifications and levels of success well into the twentieth century, including the use of mail as one method of delivery in 1898. This may have been the first books-by-mail program of any library in the United States. Mail was used continuously as one method for home delivery by the Mercantile Library thereafter.

The Mercantile Library survives today as the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction and is commonly referred to as "the Merc." The stamps are a historic link to an innovative service and to a time when the Mercantile Library was one of the largest and busiest libraries in the nation.

Full-text article

Larry T. Nix, Consulting Librarian and Library History Buff

Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 42, number 3  


Evelyn Waugh Library, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.


The Evelyn Waugh Library, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Evelyn Waugh's 3,500-volume library, now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is a monument to the novelist's bibliophilic interests. Waugh (1903–66) was a genuine bibliographical connoisseur with a strong and nearly lifelong fascination with books as physical objects. Waugh's letters and diaries are filled with observations on book illustration, collecting, fine bindings, paper, and other bookish lore. Waugh's bibliophilia in turn led him to a nearly obsessive concern with the design and appearance of his own published works.

His earliest library bookplate bears the author's strong personal stamp. It features a spare modernist design in black and red, with the author's full name (Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh) proudly displayed in the center and phrases from the marriage ceremony around the perimeter. Although it is not known when Waugh actually designed and began using this plate, it seems in style and spirit to belong to the early 1920s. Only a handful of earlier books from Waugh's library bear it. In his youth Waugh had taken a strong interest in art, design, and calligraphy. He is, of course, one of the few major novelists to have illustrated his own work (most notably, his first novel, Decline and Fall [1928]). During his school days he designed several woodcut bookplates for friends; examples of these may be found in the Ransom Center collections, and the efforts are more than creditable. Lord de Tabley's Guide to the Study of Bookplates may be found in the Waugh Library, and it is apparent that the subject was one of considerable interest to Waugh. His early modernist bookplate also reflects Waugh's youthful (and often overlooked) affinity for avant-garde art. One of his first publications at Lancing College, for example, was a defense of cubism.

A somewhat puzzling aspect of the early bookplate is the use of the marriage vows ("for better for worse"). Is Waugh referring to his relationship with his books? The uncomfortable truth may be that Waugh bonded more strongly to books than to the people closest to him.

Evelyn Waugh Library, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.


In the late 1930s Waugh—by then a successful novelist and travel writer—married his second wife, Laura, moved to a Georgian provincial estate named Piers Court, and set about becoming a country squire.He found himself increasingly preoccupied with establishing his bona fides as a member of the landed gentry and to this end spent eighty pounds on having a member of the College of Heralds register the Waugh family crest, which soon found its way onto the pediment at Piers Court. No doubt these were the finely engraved large armorial plates found on many of the larger format books in the Waugh library. A much-reduced version, with a simplified version of the Waugh crest and the family motto "Industria ditat" (Industry enriches) appears in the smaller-format books.

By this point in his career Waugh was comfortably wealthy and able to invest in antique furniture, art, and rare books. His library grew rapidly through the 1940s and 1950s and was particularly strong in Victoriana, including gothic bindings, colorplate and chromolithographic illustrated books, and hundreds of works on Victorian architecture and design. In 1957 the library was moved to Waugh's new house at Combe Florey, and, following his death in 1966, the entire room and most of its contents, including the shelving, the desk, a portrait bust of Waugh, and much of the art work, were shipped to Austin along with his manuscripts and books.

Just as the early bookplate bespeaks the exuberance of the younger Waugh of the 1920s, the later bookplates reflect the concerns of the middle-aged and older novelist. Increasingly, Waugh came to regard himself as a spokesman for traditionalism in all its forms and as an enemy of modernity in politics, religion, and aesthetics. The engraved bookplates, which might as well have emerged from the eighteenth century, make a statement about the novelist's desire to connect with his family's past but also to establish his legitimacy as a member of the English gentry as well as a personal identity. The same yearning for a lost, traditionalist England pervades much of Waugh's later writings, most particularly his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited (1945).

Full-text article

Richard W. Oram, Associate Director, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin


Cultural Record Keepers, Volume 42, number 2  


Image used by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University (*RC9.M2893.905s).


Simeon J. Bolan, Dealer in Russian Books

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, hundreds of thousands of books were sold by the Soviet government to foreign agents. Beginning in the late 1920s and continuing throughout the 1930s, Simeon Bolan was instrumental in the creation of Slavic collections at several major American research institutions.

Simeon Joachimovich Bolan (1896–1972) was a New York City-based book dealer who specialized in Russian art, history, law, and literature, and other Russia-related materials. He immigrated to the United States from Russia in the mid 1910s, and following a brief service in the U.S. Army between 1917 and 1919, began selling Russian books in 1926. Bolan's inventory contained materials of high quality and rarity, often due to their impressive provenance, including that of imperial libraries. Bolan's main clients were major institutional libraries such as the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and university libraries at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale. Between 1928 and 1938, Bolan sold more than eight thousand books to Harvard University libraries alone.

Among the private collectors who bought materials from Bolan was Harvard University graduate Bayard L. Kilgour, Jr. In fact, according to the surviving correspondence, his collection of first edition belles-lettres, which forms the largest portion of the current Russian holdings at the Houghton Library, was started by Bolan. Among the books that Kilgour donated to the Houghton Library at Harvard was the 1905 imprint of S. K. Makovskii's poems containing Bolan's book plate designed by Sergei Vasilevich Chekhonin (1878–1936).

Bolan commissioned Chekhonin, one of the leading graphic artists of the early twentieth century, to design a bookplate that Bolan primarily used as a logo on business letters. The 4.6-by-3.8-cm bookplate depicts a knight in an engraved helmet, akin to those worn by noble Russian warriors in the Middle Ages, clutching a sword and guarding an armful of books and manuscripts with his right hand. His left hand props up a shield, which in decorative Russian reveals the name of the book owner—S. J. Bolan. Spires of churches, towers, and palaces, most likely referencing the Moscow Kremlin or Pushkin's enchanted palace of Knight Prince Guidon, form an attractive and inherently Slavic backdrop. At the bottom of the oval-shaped vignette, which is laden with Russian folkloric imagery, is a band with the Latin phrase “Ex libris” and the artist's signature in French—Serge Tchekhonine.

Best known for his award-winning book illustrations and modernist porcelain designs, Chekhonin also produced paintings, theatrical and “official” designs (stage curtains, money, stamps, and posters), and jewelry decoration. When his works were displayed in Paris in 1928, Chekhonin traveled to France for the opening and opted never to return to the Soviet Union.

After 1936, the Soviet government reduced its export of rare books, and Bolan decided to liquidate his business. The links between Chekhonin, Bolan, Kilgour, and Harvard's Houghton Library are at once random and lasting; they are symbolic of the universal connection between artists, dealers, collectors, and libraries. Bolan's bookplate will remain an artifact of the era when graphic arts were at the forefront of Russian national art production, and Russian publications enjoyed great popularity among American collectors and libraries.

Full-text article

— Irina Tarsis, Research Associate, Harvard Business School

Volume 42, number 1, 2007

Volume 41, number 4, 2006

Volume 41, number 3, 2006