Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2017 Issue

American Textile History Museum, Closed Last Year, Will Transfer Its Vast Library to Cornell University

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One of the photographs from the ATHM collection (from the ATHM website).

It is an issue today and could be a greater one tomorrow. Libraries and museums, sometimes highly specialized, may no longer be able to raise the necessary funds to stay in operation. It can happen to public ones, which rely on funds generated through tax dollars, or private ones dependent on charitable contributions and admissions to pay the bills. What happens to their collections when their institutions are no longer able to survive? Here is the story of one specialized museum's large library, with as happy an ending for the library as one could hope for considering the sad reality of its demise.

 

The Osborne Library, part of the recently closed American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, will be sending the bulk of its material to the Cornell University Library. It is not a small collection. According to the ATHM website, it contains over 30,000 books, pamphlets, government documents, broadsides, trade literature and advertisements, 47,000 photographs, prints, paintings, maps, engineering drawings, and other visual items, and many manuscripts, not listed in numbers. Instead, for manuscripts, it says 1,100 collections comprising 8,500 linear feet of material. That's a shelf over a mile and a half long.

 

Books range from factory novels to mill town histories, technical texts on manufacturing and dying, mill architecture and water power. The concentration of books deals with New England mills, though other areas of the country and other countries are represented. The 47,000 images show workers, machinery, managers, mills, and mill towns. Some go back to the 18th century though most are from the 19th and 20th. Manuscripts include mill business records, those of trade and labor groups, personal papers of those associated with the industry such as workers, managers, inventors, and educators, and a handwritten letter from a mill girl to her family. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the University will be receiving around 90,000 items.

 

The American Textile History Museum was formed in 1960 by Caroline Stevens Rogers, a member of a textile family whose father had put together a large collection of old textile making equipment. It was originally called the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, located in North Andover, Massachusetts. In the 19th century, Massachusetts was an enormously industrialized state. The Merrimack Valley, north of Boston, was filled with textile mills. On the south side of the city, was the shoe capital of the land, Brockton. "America's hometown," Plymouth, land of the pilgrims' pride, produced enormous quantities of rope, essential for transportation (ships' sails required it). However, by a few decades into the 20th century, the industry was quickly moving away. It wasn't China or Mexico taking the jobs in those days, but cheaper labor in the American South. By 1960, most of the textile industry in Massachusetts had become a memory. Ms. Rogers strove to preserve that memory.

 

With its large spinning machines, looms, and other historic equipment, the museum was a hit in the Merrimack Valley. Lots of donations were received from those who shared Ms. Rogers desire to preserve their local history. Along with the equipment on display, the museum formed the Osborne Library to preserve printed and manuscript material related to the trade. The library became a place for researchers and historians to learn about the trade's rich past. In 1992, the Museum purchased a larger space in Lowell, Massachusetts, once the center of the textile industry. It moved in 1997. With a new location, the Museum expanded its educational programs. In 2006, a major fundraising effort was launched which proved a success. In 2009, the Museum announced it had become affiliated with the Smithsonian. It was a remarkable place.

 

Unfortunately, making ends meet was never easy in the new location, and the second decade of the century proved to be more challenging than the first. Perhaps, interest declined as the generations that once knew and worked in the textile mills disappeared. High tech had long replaced manufacturing as the business leader in eastern Massachusetts. The Museum found itself running deficits of $500,000 a year. In late 2015, the Museum announced a restructuring would take place. The facilities were closed to the public as of January 1, 2016, while the administration sought partnerships and contributions to enable it to continue in operation.

 

The museum never reopened.

 

Sadly, the resources did not materialize. In June of 2016, it was announced that the Museum was petitioning the state to dissolve its operations and permanently close the museum. Board Chairman Matthew Coggins said at the time, "This was an extremely difficult decision for all involved and certainly not the outcome we had hoped and worked for. However, the Board recognizes that serious operational challenges, financial shortfalls, and other circumstances make it impossible to ethically and responsibly dedicate further financial assets to attempt to keep our doors open." Caroline Stevens Rogers' grandson, Board member Christopher Rogers, said about his grandmother, "She’d be the first to cry for a minute for the loss, but then say, ‘It’s been incredible. Look at all the good we’ve done.'"

 

Still, work by the museum's staff did not end that day. They had to catalogue and prepare the vast collection for transfer to a new home. Meanwhile, the Board had to find those new homes for the collections which would display the same level of dedication to their preservation. Now they have found such a place for the items kept in the museum's library. Cornell University already has a substantial collection of textile related material spread over three of its libraries. One contains the archives of the New York based International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, one of the leading forces in worker rights and women's rights in the early 20th century. Many immigrant women got their first job on arrival in New York in that city's cramped and dangerous textile factories. My grandmother was one. The textile industry is part of many American families' histories, just as it was for that of Caroline Stevens Rogers.

 

Curtis Lyons, the Harriet Morel Oxman Director of Cornell's Hospitality, Labor and Management Library, stated, "The American Textile History Museum and Cornell University Library share core collection strengths in fiber science, apparel design and labor history. Bringing these collections together will strengthen these areas, while also expanding the library’s traditional collecting areas to include business history, industry studies and related topics."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
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    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

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