The Library History Buff

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 Postal Librariana

Library History

Library Cover Stories 2008
 A cover is a philatelic term for an envelope, postal card, or similar postal artifact that has been sent through the mail (or is intended to be sent through the mail).

December 2008

The phrase on this cover that reads "Books Delivered at the Residences of Members" is at the heart of this library cover story. The cover story was mailed by the Mercantile Library Association of New York City, now the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction, around 1868. In 1866 the Mercantile Library initiated a home delivery service for its members. This may have been the first such service of any non-profit library in America. An interesting aspect of the Mercantile Library's home delivery service was the use of stamps similar to postage stamps to indicate pre-payment for delivery. The delivery service was indicative of an approach to library service which helped make the Mercantile Library Association of New York City one of the largest and most used libraries in America in the last third of the 19th century. For more on the Mercantile Library and its delivery service click here.

November 2008

To have a library destroyed by an accidental cause is a tragedy. To have a library destroyed by a deliberate act of war is even more so. But for a library to be destroyed twice by acts of war is almost unthinkable.  Yet that was the case with the Library of the University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium. The library was destroyed in both World War I and World War II. During World War II the U.S. Post Office Department issued a series of stamps honoring the countries that were overrun by Germany and Japan.  This is a First Day Cover for the stamp issued to honor Belgium.  The cachet or illustration on this cover shows the burning of the Library of the University of Louvain.  The person who designed the cachet was Day Lowry who was a prolific designer of cachets.  For a philatelic look at the destroyed libraries of Louvain click here.

October 2008

This postcard, which announces the travel arrangements for the 1911 ALA Conference in Pasadena, California, was mailed on March 2, 1911. A report on the train trip to the conference and the sessions of the conference appeared in the June issue of the magazine Public Libraries. The train trip included a two day stay at the Grand Canyon.  "A number of the men properly garbed went down to the river's brink afoot and tried to look happy over it during the next 36 hours, likewise did those who rode the mules.  Less active persons sat and gazed for hours at the changing colors of the gorges, chasms and peaks , heedless of the lobster pink the open air bestowed on their faces."  James Wyer, President of the Association and Director of the New York State Library, was unable to attend the conference because of a tragedy at the State Library.  On March 29, 1911, a fire destroyed most of the library and its collection.  On a happier note at the conference, ALA elected the first woman as president. As stated in Public Libraries: "Mrs. Theresa West Elmendorf, the first woman to be honored by the association with its presidency, comes into the office by right of achievement greater than that of any other woman in the library field and of an equal grade with that of any man.  Her wholesome, sympathetic attitude toward library work and workers has been a distinct contribution to the craft and her freedom from personal ambition has made her a valuable aid in developing the power of the A. L. A. Her election to the presidency is a well-earned, a well-deserved honor, marking an epoch in which the A. L. A. honored itself in honoring her."

September 2008

On June 7, 1962, the Organisation de l'armée secrète (better known as the OAS), a militant underground organization opposed to Algerian independence, burned down the library of the University of Algiers destroying 112,500 books. This was one of the culminating acts of the 1954-1962 Algerian War which included many atrocities on both sides. On July 1, 1962 Algerians in overwhelming numbers voted in favor of independence from France. The burning of the library was seen as a symbol of the rightness of Algerian independence and resulted in a number of Muslim countries issuing postage stamps commemorating the tragic event. I first learned of these postage stamps from a reprint of a 1982 American Libraries article entitled "Biblio-philately" by George M. Eberhart in the first edition of the Whole Library Handbook. The stamps were among the first additions to my collection of postal librariana. The first day cover shown here depicts the June 7, 1965 Algeria stamp in this collection. It is a semi-postal stamp with the surtax going to the National Solidarity Fund of Algeria. To see the more of the stamps and related postal artifacts click here.

August 2008

There are few visions of library service that are more inspiring than that of  a bookmobile and its staff providing books to young children. The concept and reality of bookmobile service started in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905 when Mary L. Titcomb, the Librarian of the Washington County Free Library, sent out the first book wagon in the United States from the library.  Titcomb had designed the book wagon which had space for 200 books on the outside of the wagon and storage space for more books on the inside.  The driver of the wagon which was pulled by two horses was the janitor for the library. This envelope was mailed from the Washington County Free Library just 10 months after the book wagon service was initiated.  Click here to see a tribute to bookmobiles.

July 2008

The Booklovers Library was an early 20th century version of Netflix for books. This cover was mailed from the Librarian's Office of the Booklovers Library on May 3, 1901.  In an article on the topic of home delivery of books published in The Library Journal of 1905, Gertrude E. Forrest wrote, " The experiment of house to house delivery has been made by several libraries with varying results.  At the head of this list, rated by the number of books delivered stands the Booklovers" Library, with its circulation per year of several million volumes.  This library is, however, a purely business enterprise and its work is not comparable with the work done by free public libraries."   This statement  substantiates the claim by the Booklovers Library's founder and Librarian Seymour Eaton that the library was, "The Largest Circulating Library in the World". Eaton who was a promoter of the first order also described the library as "The most unique library system in the World" and as "The most attractive book service in the world".  For more information click here.

June 2008

The most interesting aspect of this partial cover is the postmark which celebrates DNI KSIAZKI or Book Week in Woldenberg Oflag IIC, the German World War II prisoner of war camp for Polish officers.  Book Week in the camp took place from August 29 to September 4, 1943 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the printing of the first Polish book.  An exhibit at the library was organized by the the Council for the Camp's Library for Cultural Instructions.  This item was given to me by my friend and fellow bibliophilatelist Jerzy Duda of Krakow Poland who also first alerted me to the story which this cover helps tell.  The cover is a perfect example of postal librariana because it has both a library history story and a postal history story.  Roman Sobus is an expert on the postal history of the camp and has developed an outstanding exhibit on this topic.  The Articles of the Geneva Convention entitled POWs to the right of self-government which led to the development of postal services and library services in some POW camps including Woldenberg.  Ironically, as Sobus points out in the introduction to his exhibit the postage stamps and special postmarks that were created by the Polish prisoners of war "are most often of a strong cultural or religious nature, depicting events or persons from Poland's history, and its battles for independence, a fact seemingly lost on the prisoners' captors." For more on this and other similar covers click here.

May 2008

Covers like this one are referred to as civic advertising covers.  They were used in the early 20th century to promote communities as desirable places to live and locate a business.  This cover was produced by the Sheboygan Publishing Company to promote Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  The first building depicted under the Wisconsin state name is the public library building in Sheboygan for which Andrew Carnegie donated $35,000 in 1901. All but a portion of the facade of the Carnegie building was razed in the late 1990s to make way for an expansion of the art museum.  For more on civic advertising covers click here

April 2008

National Library Week which began in 1958 is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In 1968 the Ryukyu Islands issued a stamp  to commemorate the 10th anniversary of International Library Week.  At that time the Ryukyus were under the semi-autonomous administration of the United States.  Control of the islands reverted to Japan in 1972.  The "international" aspect refers to the fact that there were both American military libraries and Japanese village libraries on the islands.  The theme for library week in 1968 was the same as National Library Week in the states - "Be all you can be --- Read".  For a philatelic tribute to National Library Week click here.

March 2008

Charles McCarthy, was the first librarian of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library which was established in 1901 as part of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. McCarthy was a leader in the Progressive Movement and is the author of The Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library served as a prototype for such libraries in other states and also was the model for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. This cover is a pre-stamped postal stationary envelope and contains the logo of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. It was mailed by McCarthy from New York to himself at what appears to be his home address in Madison. McCarthy was evidently in the habit of taking these pre-stamped envelopes along on trips and sending communications back to Madison.  Whether this was a personal or business communication is unknown.For more on McCarthy click here.

February 2008

This envelope is one of over 30 envelopes which I have in my collection which were mailed to R. A. Brock or the institutions he worked for in Richmond Virginia during the 19th century.  Robert Alonzo Brock (1839-1914) served at the Corresponding Secretary and Librarian of the Virginia Historical Society from 1875 until 1892.  Envelopes sent to or from libraries before 1900 are extremely scarce so it is unusual to have acquired so many related to a single individual. This envelope, mailed by the State Library of Massachusetts on July 20, 1882, probably contained an order or payment for a publication from the Virginia Historical Society. To learn more about Brock click here.

January 2008

I acquired this envelope because of its connection to the Astor Library, one of the libraries which merged to form the New York Public Library in 1898.  It is also an example of an 1853-55 issue pre-stamped envelope.  At the time I didn't have a clue about B. F. Stevens, the person to whom the envelope was addressed. As it turns out, B. F. Stevens was Benjamin Franklin Stevens, an extraordinary individual who played a variety of roles including that of  bibliographer, book seller, library agent, and United States Despatch Agent in London. For more on B. F. Stevens click here.


See also Library Cover Stories 2007

See also Library Cover Stories 2009

See also Library Cover Stories 2010



 Postal Librariana

Library History

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