The Library History Buff

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 Postal Librariana

Library History

Library Cover Stories 2009

 "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 2009

This postcard is one of 25 postcards that are part of the Alice M. Hughes postcard collection which is now part of my library postcard collection. I came across the collection of postcards by chance at a local postcard show. Collectively the 25 postcards tell a story about the library career of Miss Hughes. This particular card was mailed to Miss Hughes on September 19, 1905 at the Public Library in Pierre, South Dakota. Pierre Public Library opened in a new building funded by Andrew Carnegie on March 10, 1905 so Miss Hughes may have been the library's first director. A history of the South Dakota Library Association indicates that she was an early member of the Association which was established in 1904. The collection of postcards follows Miss Hughes to the Bellefonte Academy Library in Bellefonte, PA (1909-1910) to the Sandusky Library Association Library in Sandusky, OH (1911) to the San Louis Obispo Public Library in California (1915-1916), and finally to the Fremont Public Library in Nebraska (1922).  Obviously, the postcards don't tell the whole story of Miss Hughes' library career, but they are artifacts that connect us to a person who shared our profession many decades ago. A Google search provides a few more clues about her career, but not a whole lot. Regretfully, none of the libraries that she worked at have basic library histories that list their former librarians/directors. An Alice M. Hughes of Merrill, WI is mentioned in a couple of documents as voluntarily cataloging the collection of the newly established Shawano, WI Public Library in 1900. From the messages on the postcards it is obvious that Miss Hughes collected library postcards and the group of postcards that I have may have only been part of a larger collection. Because of her collection, she is no longer an unknown librarian. The picture side of the postcard shows the Ohio State Library in Columbus, Ohio and includes a message from a friend.

November 2009

I find this postcard interesting for several reasons. As a library postcard collector, I prefer postcards that have been used, and when the message side of the postcard has a message that relates to libraries it is even more desirable. Also, one of my library postcard collecting interests is postcards which feature bookmobiles. This postcard was mailed by a resident of Elizabethtown, Kentucky on November 1, 1958 to a friend in California. The card has been stamped with a message in support of a referendum to establish a free public in an election on November 4. The handwritten message says in part "Our county will vote on this next Tue. Hope we can get it."  The printed message in the upper left corner, says in part: "One of Kentucky's 98 bookmobiles which give service to young and old in remote corners of the state." The postcard was produced by the Friends of Kentucky Libraries.  Elizabethtown is located in Hardin County. The Hardin County Public Library was founded in 1958 so the referendum must have passed. The public library still operates a bookmobile.

October 2009

Josiah Little founded the Newburyport Public Library in Massachusetts in 1854.  This cover was mailed to him from Boston by Samuel Swett on June 27, 1854. The cover is an example of a folded letter where the letter is folded in such a way that it also serves as an envelope. In the letter, Swett, an author who was born in Newburyport, provides Little with advice on the formation of the library. Little's original intent was evidently to form a  subscription library, but Swett points out the advantages of establishing a public library supported by the City of Newburyport and the adjacent towns. Massachusetts passed a a general law providing for the establishment of free public libraries in 1851. Newburyport was one of the first ten public libraries established under the new law. The library was opened to the public in 1855, one year after the Boston Public Library opened to the public. A history of the library can be found here.

September 2009

The Library Association of the United Kingdom met in Paris, France from September 12 to September 17, 1892. This unusual out-of-the-country meeting was an indicator of the interest in sharing library knowledge and developments internationally. The Library Association was founded in 1877 in London following the formation of the American Library Association in 1876. A number of prominent American librarians attended the the 1877 meeting of the Library Association and were made honorary members of the Association. The members of the Library Association of the United Kingdom received a warm welcome in Paris in 1892. The meeting took place at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and the state and municipal libraries of Paris were available to attendees "for the study and inspection of the methods and systems in use".  A reception was hosted by the Cercle de la Librarie at the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Duc d'Aumale held a reception at Chantilly. The Report of the Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Library Association of the United Kingdom can be found here.  In 2002 the Library Association merged with the Institute of Information Scientists to form the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). The cover (envelope) above was mailed from Paris on September 18, 1892 and was received in London on September 19, 1892. Holloway is a district in north London. Twenty five one franc postage stamps were used to pay the postal rate from Paris to London.

August 2009

The H. Parmelee Library Company was founded in Iowa in 1882. It developed a rotating "package" collection which it called the University of the Traveling Library.  The company relocated to Chicago in 1898 where it continued to market its rotating package library as a way of providing "A Thoroughly Equipped and Permanent Library In every Town and Hamlet in America."  The company went out of business in 1902 but resumed business as the Plymouth Libraries. Sid Huttner, Head of Special Collections for the University of Iowa Libraries has compiled more background information about the H. Parmelee Library Company as part of his Lucile Project website. For more about traveling libraries in the United States click here.

July 2009

At the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, a library was formed as part of the Woman's Building which included 7,000 literary works by women from around the world. A list of the books included in the library is located here. The exposition attracted over twenty-seven million visitors. The Winter issue of Libraries & Culture for 2006  contained six essays related the Woman's Building Library. This special issue was edited by Sarah Wadsworth . The Fair Women by Jeanne Madeline Weimann (Academy Chicago, 1981) provides an extensive overview of the story of Woman's Building. Also at the exposition was a library exhibit developed by the American Library Association. The ALA exhibit was in the Government Building of the exposition. The Chicago History Journal blog contains a post on the Library.

The Official Souvenir Postal Card is on the back of the Grant postal card issue of 1891. These souvenir cards were predecessors of picture postcards. The Woman's Building is illustrated on the card which was mailed to Hamburg Germany in July 1893. The one cent stamp of the Columbian Exposition issue of 1893 has been added to makeup the international postal card rate.


June 2009





A bookplate collector in Oberstdorf, Germany sent this postal card to Katherine Sharp at the School of Library Science at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana on June 22, 1906.  The card arrived in Champaign, Illinois on July 5, 1906. It was then forwarded to the Lake Placid Club in New York. The cover story most pertinent to the library history buff relates to the link between Katherine Sharp and the Lake Placid Club.  The Lake Placid Club was established by Melvil Dewey and his wife Annie in the 1890s as a summer community in the Adirondack Mountains for professional people. Katherine Sharp was a protégé of Dewey and a summer resident of Lake Placid. She was director of both the library and library school at the University of Illinois from 1897 to 1907. When she left the University of Illinois in 1907 she moved to Lake Placid and became Vice-President of the Lake Placid Club. The anti-Semitic practices at the Lake Placid Club were a major factor leading to Melvil Dewey's resignation as New York State Librarian in 1905. Lake Placid became a major success as a resort community and was the site of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Sharp was killed in an automobile accident in 1914 at the age of 49.

The other story related to this cover involves the collection and exchange of bookplates. The writer of the postal has learned that Sharp may have bookplates for exchange and offers to exchange some of his various bookplates with her. He also indicates that if she is interested in exchanging bookplates with others he will put her address in the German Ex Libris journal for September. More on library bookplate collecting is located here.

May 2009

The story of this cover lies in the label affixed to the top of it. The YMCA of San Francisco found a novel method of raising revenue for its free library. They rescued letters from the Dead Letter Office of the Post Office Department in hopes that the recipient of the rescued item would make a contribution for this service. In this case, the envelope contained an invitation to a church ceremony that occurred on October 27, 1870. Since the envelope was postmarked Nov. 20, the recipient may have not been willing to make a contribution to the San Francisco YMCA. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in the United States was founded in Boston, MA in 1851. By 1876 there were 478 of these associations in cities across the nation. Of these, 180 had libraries with a total of 164,188 volumes. Two hundred and one of the YMCAs had reading rooms with an average of 9,145 readers daily. The purpose of YMCA libraries was “to provide a suitable place for young men and others to spend their evenings in, without resorting to the haunts of vice and dissipation.” Some YMCA libraries were free and some charged a nominal fee, generally $1 a year. The Library of the Young Men’s Christian Association of San Francisco was founded in 1853. By 1876 it had a collection of 5,000 volumes.

April 2009

This cover is a folded letter where the letter also serves as the envelope. It is franked with a postage stamp from Great Britain. However, the letter was written in New York, and is dated April 24th, 1855. There is a receiver's mark on the back with a date of May 9. The letter is addressed to J. (Joseph) Burnley Hume in London.  The letter is signed by Jos. G. Cogswell (Joseph Green Cogswell). Cogswell was the Librarian of Harvard College from 1821 to 1823, but he is better known for his work in building the collection of the Astor Library in New York City.  The Astor Library was one of the library institutions that merged to form the New York Public Library.  John Jacob Astor died in 1848 and willed $400,000 for a free public library.  Cogswell vision for the library, however, was as a non-circulating reference library.  A portion of this letter convey's Cogswell's philosophy. "The Astor Library is doing well & is found very useful to studious men; it was not intended for mens popular ... reading, but it furnishes abundant materials for those who write & dispense knowledge among the masses.  It is frequented daily by from one to two hundred persons."  The question arises as to how a letter written in New York was mailed in Great Britain. One possible explanation is that Cogswell sent the letter to a forwarding agent in London for re-posting. Cogswell dealt extensively with British book dealers and he may have sent multiple letters to a forwarding agent for re-posting. One book dealer that Cogswell dealt with was B.F.Stevens.

March 2009

I have been unable to unravel the full story behind this advertising cover which was mailed to Melvil Dewey in Amherst, Massachusetts in what appears to be June or July of 1876. What I have discovered thus far is largely due to Wayne A. Wiegand's book Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey (American Library Association, 1996).  The corner card or return address is for the American Metric Bureau, General Office, Tremont Pl., cor. Beacon St., Boston. Melvil Dewey left Amherst in April, 1876 where he had served as Assistant Librarian at Amherst College. He went to Boston to embark on a business arrangement with the the Ginn Company, an educational publisher located at 13 Tremont Place. Dewey was an ardent proponent of the metric system and part of his arrangement with the Ginn Company was to market metric devices. On July 4, 1876, Dewey incorporated the American Metric Bureau.  The mystery here is why would a letter from Dewey's Metric Bureau office in Boston be sent to Dewey in Amherst. The cover is one of the favorite items in my collection since it links Dewey and 1876, the year in which he first published his Decimal System and participated in the founding of the American Library Association. 

The back of the envelope was used to educate the recipient about metric equivalents.




February 2009

I've had these two covers which were mailed from California in 1948 for some time but it was only recently that I was able to discover part of their story.  My interest in the covers related to the fact that they were mailed to someone who worked in a library. The library was the Reference Library of the Associated Press in New York and the person was Laurabelle Zack. Miss Zack later married William N. Oatis, a journalist for the Associated Press who became internationally famous when he was arrested as a spy by the government of Czechoslovakia in 1951. At the time he was the bureau chief for the Associated Press in Prague. Oatis was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in Prison. He was released in 1953 after the Czech government said it received a poignant plea from his wife Laurabelle. The release of Oatis also followed the death of Joseph Stalin and an angry letter from President Eisenhower which may have been more relevant to his release than the letter from Laurabelle.

More about William Oatis can be found here and here. I was pleased to learn from Oatis's son Jeremy that Laurabelle is still living at the age of 84. She was nicknamed "Betty Boop" because of her resemblance to the cartoon character which explains the illustration on the first cover. She does not remember who "Sun E Boy" was.  Anyone know a California illustrator or cartoonist who was living in California in 1948?


January 2009

This cover was mailed to Walter S. Biscoe at the Columbia College Library on December 31, 1888, 120 years ago. Biscoe was a protégé of Melvil Dewey and made major contributions to Dewey's Decimal Classification system. The cover was mailed eleven days after Dewey resigned as Librarian of Columbia College to accept a position as State Librarian of New York in Albany. The library school established by Dewey at Columbia as well as Biscoe followed him to New York. For more on Walter S. Biscoe click here.


See also Library Cover Stories 2007

See also Library Cover Stories 2008

See also Library Cover Stories 2010



 Postal Librariana

Library History

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