The History of Special Collections at Brown University

Baumgras Lincoln 
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Table of Contents:


arrowColonial Period

arrowLate 18th Century

arrowEarly 19th Century

arrowMid-19th Century

arrowLate 19th Century

arrowTurn of the Century

arrowWW I & the 1920's

 The 1930's & WW II 

arrow1950 to 1970

arrowThe 1970's

arrowThe 1980's

Stamp Collection
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arrowGallery of Images

The 1930s and World War II  

Almost immediately after Henry Bartlett Van Hoesen became Librarian in 1930, spectacular acquisitions were made for the Lincoln Collection. These were the purchases, again underwritten by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., of Alonzo Chappel's painting entitled "The Last Day of Lincoln" and a portrait of Lincoln, painted in early 1865, by Peter Baumgras. A bequest from the daughter-in-law of Alexander H. Ritchie added his painting, "The Death of President Lincoln," to the display in the Lincoln Rooms during 1937.

Substantial additions to the Harris Collection were also made by Professor S. Foster Damon. He expanded the collection of hymnals and other forms of musical literature by purchasing arrowSelect Harmony (Farmington, Conn., 1779) by Andrew Law, Class of 1775, arrowThe Medley (Philadelphia, 1795) an early songster, and the arrowColumbian Harmonist (New York, 1814) which contains one of the earliest recorded printings of "The Star Spangled Banner." He obtained financial support from Colonel Webster Knight, Class of 1876, for acquiring the collection of 1,500 boo ks and pamphlets about Walt Whitman assembled by Henry S. Saunders. He then persuaded F. Monroe Endicott to donate a collection of over 350 pieces of sheet music with lithographed covers, published by Endicott & Co., New York, between 1830 and 1850.

Rounding out the decade was a gift from William Chauncey Langdon, received in 1957, of books, broadsides, pamphlets, posters and original manuscripts for historical pageants he had staged between 1908 and 1928. The arrowLangdon Pageant Collection now comprises one of the largest resources for the study of pageant literature and memorabilia in the United States.

Colonel Knight, a long-time member of the Library Committee, bequeathed two major gifts to Brown in 1933. The first was a legacy of $100,000 for building an extension to the overcrowded John Hay Library. A fund-raising campaign was begun with thi s "seed money" and the new addition, which doubled the library's capacity to over 500,000 volumes, opened in 1938. His second gift was an almost complete collection of mint United States postage stamps, in blocks of four, along with mint and used singles and blocks of revenue stamps plus an endowment for supporting the collection. 

The Knight Collection served as a magnet to attract the Peltz and Morriss Collections of Special Delivery stamps, in 1947 and 1960, as well as the George S. Champlin Memorial Stamp Collection of international issues, which began arriving in 1960. 

A token copy of Horace's Opera (Florence, 1482) selected from the library of William F. Foster, Class of 1873, was presented by his widow in 1934. The entire 600 volume Foster Horace Collection with its finely printed editions from the presses of Aldus, Elsevir, Estienne, Baskerville, Plantin and others came to Brown six years later. 

The papers of Howard Phillips Lovecraft were deposited in the library a few months after his death in 1937. This eccentric Providence author of fantasy and horror tales for the pulp magazines of the 1920's is now recognized as one of the seminal figures in the development of the science fiction genre. The present comprehensive collection includes more than 1,000 books and magazines, in 13 languages, containing material by or about Lovecraft plus over 2,000 original letters and manuscripts of his essays, fiction and poetry.

An important step in the development of Special Collections was the formation of The Friends of the Library in the late 1930's. The Friends, founded by Carleton Doty Morse, Class of 1913, gave the library an organization of bibliophiles whose purpose was to support expansion of the collections. Among the initial gifts attracted by The Friends was a collection of 32 manuscripts and poems written by John Hay and presented by his son, Clarence L. Hay, to W. Easton Louttit, Jr., Class of 1925, the newly appointed University Archivist. 

Special Collections achieved official recognition as a separate department of the University Library in 1940 when Carl L. Cannon, Visiting Associate in Bibliography and author of arrowAmerican Book Collectors and Collecting, the standard text in its field, was charged with developing a policy for governing the collections scattered throughout Seminar Rooms and Departmental Libraries. Today's separate administrative st ructure for Special Collections evolved from Cannon's recommendations. 

Also in 1940, the personal library of Dr. Solomon Drowne, Class of 1773, plus over 1,000 documents and letters relating to members of the Drowne family (1770 through 1940) were moved from Mt. Hygeia, Dr. Drowne's home in Foster, Rhode Island, to Brown. This fine example of an 18th century American private library is preserved intact within Special Collections. 

In 1943, the library received by bequest Mrs. Isabel Harris Metcalf's Peaceana Collection of 2,000 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings relating to the League of Nations and the World Peace Movement. The Metcalf Peaceana Collection was soon joined by the Koopman Collection formed by Philip Darrell Sherman, Class of 1902, Professor of English at Oberlin College, and presented in honor of Librarian Harry Lyman Koopman. This collection contains over 5,000 first editions and rare books, manuscripts and association items, plus prints, drawings, and broadsides.  It is a rich source for the study of English literature and the growth of fine printing from the works of Caxton and Chaucer in the 15th century to William Morris and William Butler Yeats in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The papers of Harry Lyman Koopman were added to the library in 1946 by Karl Koopman, Class of 1913, and Mrs. Clarence H. Philbrick, Class of 1910.  These were among the 38 named collections then administered by Marion E. Brown, the first Assistant in Charge of Special Collections.

Growth of Special Collections accelerated in 1948 when Brown University assumed ownership of the Annmary Brown Memorial.  The Memorial, built by Civil War General Rush C. Hawkins and named in honor of his wife, contains an internationally know incunabula collection as well as old master paintings and drawings, Revolutionary and Civil War manuscripts and documents, plus the personal correspondence of its founder.  These incunabula along with others in Special Collections make up one of the largest collections of 15th century printed books owned by an American university.

It was also in 1948, with the establishment of the Charles Edwin Wilbour Memorial fund, that Brown's collections in Egyptology began to assume national importance.  Wilbour, Class of 1854, had been an ardent amateur Egyptologist and a bequest of his daughter, Theodora, established both Brown's Egyptology department and an endowment for the acquisition of books.

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Samuel A. Streit, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections
Excerpted from:  Special Collections at Brown University: A History and Guide
Providence, Rhode Island: The Friends of the Library of Brown University, 1988
Funding provided by Daniel G. Siegel (Class of 1957), and the Twenty-First Century Fund

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Last Updated: Thursday, 26-Jul-2007 10:35:33 EDT