“To Promote in the Study of the Development of Civilization in England and America”: The Third Annual Report of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, 1929-1930, Part Two

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Continuing with this post covering the contents of the very interesting third annual report of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, now the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, the regional showcase located in San Marino, we turn to section titled “The Library” and which mentioned that efforts to better serve students (scholars) utilizing the material that was central to Huntington’s passion for collection, included the completion of a card catalogue (something an increasingly diminishing number of us recall) with authors and titles.

Also mentioned was that another of these, specific to material printed in the United States through the 18th century was about finished. As noted in the first part of the post, the late Founder collected so much so quickly that basic documentation of the treasures in the holdings was lacking, but it was reported that cataloging was moving apace and “when the department moves to its new quarters, with adequate space and equipment, the work would move more rapidly. While the situation was “far from satisfactory,” it was observed that at least much the collection was usable.

Helping with production of the institution’s Bulletin and responding to requests for information were also cited and, in a few instances, queries were so detailed that independent researchers were required to assist. It was cautioned, though, that “discrimination” was needed and explained that “there seems to be no good reason why a member of the staff should do a large part of the work for a Ph.D. candidate” working on a dissertation. Returning to the abiding concern for quality and impact of the collections, however, it was added,

On the other hand, where the undertakings seem to be of sufficient importance to the scholarly world to warrant the time being given, whole texts have been compared with the original ad long studies made in the preparation of bibliographical data [two recent examples were provided].

There was also the expansion of the “working library” which was for “supplementing and supporting the rare material” with this necessitating “the advice of competent [this was the word embraced for those deemed worthy of having access to the collection] scholars” with those denoted as “Visiting Scholars” researching at the Huntington being “drafted into service.” Rare books were marked for the reference section, while other publications and new acquisitions were in the reading room or in adjacent spaces and made available to those admitted for research work.

A rare reference to a woman associated with the institution was the mention of Grace Osgood Kelley (1882-1951), who was the supervising cataloger and classifier of a private library now part of the University of Chicago and who is buried in the cemetery at La Verne, east of San Marino, and her work in classifying and rearranging Huntington materials. As the working library was developing, it as noted that the institution was often reliant on inter-library loans with such libraries as the Library of Congress and the University of California.

Beyond this working library, it was reported that there were 650 books, three dozen manuscripts, nearly 50 maps and a handful of broadsides (a single sheet much like a poster) were added in the previous year. Specific mention was made of donor Philip Gosse, son of Sir Edmund, a well-known British author, critic and poet who died in 1928, and the three gifts made to the Library of writings of his father and letters “from important personages in England.”

Also highlighted was Board of Trustees President Henry M. Robinson and his September 1928 donation of items related to the Young Plan of 1929, concerning German reparations to European countries imposed after the First World War. In some cases, the collection was buttressed by copies, not originals, and it was noted that ” a number of manuscripts relating to California history have thus been copied and obtained” for the institution, but it was not stated from where.

Additions to the library building were nearing completion and were greatly awaited because of storage for manuscripts, with the stacks to hold these items being installed. Chief in the expansion project was the addition of a wing at the north end of he structure that linked the cataloging, manuscripts, and rare-book departments and provided for a new reading room. If there were more scholars using the rare book room, connection to the new reading room and the stacks for this part of the collection would be enabled by the addition, but, for the time being, the reading room would be general “with ready access to the working library and reference books” and it boasted open shelves and stacks below. The reading room was also in use by catalogers until growth in materials would require a change.

Not only was there a new ventilation system in the Library building, but “automatic thermostat control of both heat and humidity” for rare books and manuscripts, which was vital because “constant care is necessary for the protection and preservation of rare material,” much of it quite fragile. It was emphasized that “preservation requires a fairly constant temperature and an even more constant condition of humidity” which “are assured under the new installation.” Briefly mentioned were repair projects, while it was also commented that using copies rather than originals for researcher access was expanding, with about 325 items addressed during the previous year. Copies had a “peculiar advantage” for loaning or sharing with individuals and institutions and satisfied a Huntington trust provision that originals never leave the Library.

New technology was also mentioned, including the acquisition of a “compound binocular microscope” which was “used for the detection of alterations” in materials including “super-imposed letters, writing underneath, and even legends and seals.” A “comparison microscope” allowed for the detailed investigation of a pair of items for study of writing samples and ink, while a tintometer aided in the match of ink colors, as well as alterations by another hand than that of the original in a manuscript. Another instrument provided the means for looking at watermarks, while ultraviolet light was employed for reading extremely faded or erased inscriptions and obviated the need for reagents “which are uncertain in their action and are liable to damage the document.”

A brief section on the Art Gallery, which was the remodeled mansion of the Huntingtons, included the recently completion of a laboratory in what was the service wing and which allowed the curator, Maurice Block, to fulfill the prime objective of “caring for the objects in his charge, which of course involves cleaning and repairing” works. Examination and study of condition, as well as description and identification, were also facilitated by the new unit, while much of needed repair work could be conducted there. Once again, the core word of quality was mentioned here with respect to the art collection “and the Curator is continually reporting his satisfaction at the excellent condition in which he finds practically every object.”

A “museum record” with artifact descriptions and notes, was about finished, while at least one photograph was also considered essential. It was added that “an incidental value attached . . . in that prints and enlargements can be made from the negatives” when needed. Everything in the gallery was so documented so that there were more than 1,000 negatives, while the photographing of the material in the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, located in the west end of the Library, was nearly complete. A reference library was gradually expanding and this was “a working collection of books . . . relating to the periods and subjects represented” in the collection, not merely a holding of books generally about art.

A notable endeavor carried on with the Gallery was the visit of Charles Henry Collins Baker of the National Gallery London and whose role, among others, was “Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.” Collins Baker was hired to develop a catalog of the British paintings, a core element of the collection represented by such well-known examples of Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy,” which was recently exhibited at the British institution a century after Henry acquired it to the chagrin of many in England, and Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkie.” Collins Baker went on to be a senior research associate at the Huntington until 1949, while Sir Charles Holmes, who mournfully inscribed “au revoir” on the back of “Blue Boy” when it left for San Marino, was enlisted to write an introduction for the catalog.

A section on “Photographic Reproductions” reiterated the number, noted above, of photostats ordered by the Librarian, Leslie E. Bliss, and this was considered “the chief service rendered by the department to the Library,” even if the number was fewer than the prior year because of other work, principally outside requests for copies, which doubled. While stated as secondary, the importance was reflected in the statement that of

meeting the demand from visitors for photographs of the grounds and buildings and of the objects of art, as well as for photostats of the objects that have been seen in the Library exhibitions. It is again a pleasure to record that this public sale has continued and even increased. A noteworthy feature of this service is the sale of photostats for educational purposes.

Highlighted was that “the few color prints available of the more popular paintings” were in demand and it was anticipated to provide more of these and to do “in some cheaper form.” A second photostat machine was purchased and a new staff member hired “to make special photographs, particularly those for the museum record.” Lantern slides for lectures and color photo experiments for reproductions of paintings, manuscripts and illuminated books were also mentioned, with the latter involving the necessity of a separate plate and limited production practically to the former.

Photography was also utilized by the department’s head Dr. Lodewyk Bendikson, who joined the Huntington in 1920 and assisted in the move of collections items from New York to San Marino, for “bringing out and rendering legible writing” in objects that were “obscured by subsequent blots or stains” using color filters. This work was to be featured in an upcoming edition of the Bulletin.

Under the heading of “Grounds and Buildings,” it was reported that the Library addition introduced a new heating system for it and the art gallery structures “connected . . . by tunnel only, and so eliminating all danger for gas,” while the aforementioned ventilation system was again highlighted. A challenge was that, the library had massive concrete walls and floors because of its being built as fire proof and assumed strength in the event of a major earthquake, so the invasive work for the latter was intrusive for staff and scholars, but they “have borne with the noise and dust in patience for the sake of benefits to come.” Necessary precautions were, naturally, taken for protection of the library’s treasures.

Also mentioned was that, under strict instructions from the Founder, land at the south and southeast were detached from the institution’s grounds and listed for sale by his Huntington Land and Improvement Company. This meant that fences and roads had to be adjusted, the residence of Superintendent William Hertrich “abandoned” and a new one built for him at the north end of the property and a guest house moved next to that “and is being remodeled as a house for the Director, Max Farrand.

It was recorded that

The grounds and gardens are proving increasingly attractive. The opening of the walk to the Mausoleum [where Henry and Arabella are interred] has drawn surprisingly many visitors to that part of the grounds. It is nearly a third of a mile [north] from either the Library or the Art Gallery, and yet nearly two hundred persons on the average have walked there each day.

Also mentioned was an improvement of a path in the cactus garden so that specimens could be more easily observed and enjoyed. In the 1929-1930 fiscal year, around 3,000 labels were placed in the gardens and grounds and “seem to be greatly appreciated by the general public, a well as by school classes and garden clubs” because people could be seen jotting down names in notebook. The labeling was done with the advisement of Eric Walther, director of the gardens at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Specimens for the gardens were added from Mexico, Central America, South America, and Africa, with special attention to those obtained from a university in South Africa as well as Baja California and Sonora in northern México bordering California. It was also recorded that scientists and scholars were received from Australia, England, Europe and South Africa and that these visited “for the express purpose of seeing at first hand the rare varieties of plants and of collecting material for their own work.” Botany classes and garden clubs were also mentioned as was “the distribution of seed to schools for school gardens as well as to individuals for home use.”

Regarding exhibits, it was noted that there were 125,000 visitors during the fiscal year, a drop of a little over 10% from the 1928-1929 year, but this “should be regarded as indicating a sustained interest that is remarkable” following the early 1928 opening of the institution that included “a large element of curiosity . . . resulting from the widespread publicity” generated from “the rapid assembling of the collections.” While that novelty ended, there was “a conservative policy in the matter of publicity” with monthly press notices, but also “no attempt . . . to exploit the collections or the institution” so that interest was “based largely upon the favorable impression of visitors” and word of mouth. It was further observed that,

The relative inaccessibility of the Huntington Library, because of its suburban location, and the necessity of obtaining cards [for admission] in advance, are further factors in limiting the visitors who are really interested [rather than merely curious.]

It was added that attendance (now about 800,000 annually) was very much driven by seasons, with July and August being a peak for regional visitors and February, March and April for the “winter birds” and it was during those five months that the institution achieved capacity. The office reserved admission cards for those in the area for brief periods so that they would request to visit “at once if at all” and there were several thousand of these. The rest of the year, save September when the site was closed for cleaning and renovation, and on Sundays, the busiest day of the week, “it is possible to accommodate all visitors at whatever time they wish to come.” Any growing pains were, it seemed, being ameliorated by experience and efficiency.

While the above-noted improvements in garden walkways and labels were observed as helping with visitor experience, “practically no changes have been made in he art collections,” and only a few minor ones undertaken at the library.” A trio of special exhibits included one of English literature manuscripts for the American Library Association’s national conference and the expansion of the north wing was expected to facilitate future displays. It was stated that 17,000 visitors came in large groups during the last year, including from 18 conventions, 150 clubs and organizations, and 200 schools from colleges down.

A last word in this section concerned the security personnel employed by the Huntington and it was noted that having officers move from the grounds in the morning to the exhibitions in the afternoon led to “greater interest and enthusiasm” than when kept in the same place for their entire shift. Moreover, it was reported that “many visitors comment favorably not only upon the appearance of the guards but more especially upon the personal interest they take in the visitors’ seeing everything to the best advantage.”

The final section concerned “Huntington Biographical Material” and the Rare Books Curator Robert O. Schad, who later wrote a full biography, as “proceeding quietly but effectively in gathering a large amount of information relating to the life and interests of the Founder.” He utilized some of this in a short talk for Founder’s Day and which was to be rendered into an article for the first of the newly established Bulletin. As to that event, it was limited to employees, but it was thought the new reading room would allow for “a larger group to share in the commemoration of Mr. Huntington’s birthday,” which was 27 February. Recently, however, the program has been renamed Founders’ Day to honor Henry and Arabella.

This report is a remarkable early document from the Huntington and is interesting to compare and contrast with the institution as it has developed and evolved over the years and as it approaches its centennial of opening to the public.

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