Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2017 Issue

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


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>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <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
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  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
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