Monday, October 13, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years: Spotlight on the Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering

Harrison Collection bookplate designed 
by James Hayes, 1982

In the world of calligraphy one public collection stands out: The Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering. Located in the Book Arts & Special Collections Center, the Harrison Collection is one of the most remarkable collections of its kind, a storehouse of original calligraphic manuscripts, as well as fine prints, broadsides, roughs, drawings and sketches. While the focus is on contemporary calligraphy, a look back at the development of bookhands is represented in a selection of medieval through seventeenth century leaves.

San Francisco resident Richard Harrison (1909-1990) loved and practiced calligraphy; he corresponded with scribes whose work he commissioned and later gave to the San Francisco Public Library. Harrison’s gift coincided with the opening of the Special Collections Department, becoming a cornerstone collection that would include the Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book, and the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor.

Thomas Ingmire, Saucy Jacks, 1993

Included in the collection are original works by English calligrapher and watercolor artist Marie Angel and San Francisco calligrapher Thomas Ingmire, both of whom are a special focus of the collection. Recent acquisitions include the work of world-renowned local calligrapher Georgia Deaver, teacher and artist Arne Wolf, as well as calligraphy by Carl Rohrs, Monica Dengo, Luca Barcellona, Massimo Pollelo, Christopher Haanes, and Judy Detrick.

"A rose is a rose is a rose" by Gertrude Stein. Calligraphy by Georgia Deaver, circa 1980s.
A key feature of the Harrison Collection is its accessibility. The collection is open to anyone with an interest in calligraphy, without appointment. Because of its visual qualities and grounding in the handwritten letter, the collection merits study by students, artists, and practitioners from around the world. We look forward to another 50 years of calligraphic pleasures in the Library’s Special Collections.

50 years of special collections

Friday, October 10, 2014

Special Guests for Special Collections for All of Us

You may have noticed from our "Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight" series of blog posts that the San Francisco History Center and Book Arts & Special Collections are turning 50 this year. Just like early Gen-Xers, really.

Our blog is only 5. Put differently, our oldest social media presence is in kindergarten (albeit a precocious kindergarten), while our collections and services have been growing for half a century. We have type specimens. Hand-drawn calligraphy. Coroner's records. Funny books in 35 languages. Mug books. Maps. Card files. Photographs. Posters. Diaries and letters. Zines. One wonders how many books, articles, documentaries, exhibits, dissertations, high school term papers, novels, urban planning reports, posts, plaints, art projects, tweets, and just plain gossip and speculation have come from people all over the world perusing our "special collections." What's special about them is that anyone can come in and use them, regardless of their rarity or uniqueness.

Kevin Starr, as City Librarian in the 1970s
Kevin Starr, as City Librarian in the 1970s
To celebrate our youth and our age (in archives and special collections, it's all about historical perspective, after all), we'll be hosting two special guests on Tuesday October 21 at 6:00 p.m. Join us in the Koret Auditorium here at the Main Library, where scholar and former City and State Librarian Kevin Starr will speak about the role of special collections in public libraries, particularly here at the San Francisco Public Library. Where have we been, and what's in store for us? We'll also honor our former City Archivist Gladys Hansen with a screening of a new short documentary, Counting the Dead: One former city librarian's 50 year-long quest to account for the names of those who died in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire by Catharine Axley.
Gladys Hansen, as City Archivist, undated

After the talk, there will be an informal walk-through of Celebrating 50 Years: 1964-2014: An Exhibition of Works from the Marjorie G. and Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center and the Daniel E. Koshland San Francisco History Center in the Skylight Gallery-South, on the sixth floor. All are warmly invited to attend as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this remarkable public resource.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight: Hormel Center Archives

It is unlikely that there was any expectation of GLBT archives at the library in 1964 when the San Francisco History and the Book Arts & Special Collections departments were established. However, the library’s commitment to recording and celebrating the events and people of the City anticipated that additional kinds of archives would be acquired eventually.

The James C. Hormel Center was founded in 1991 to document the GLBT experience, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Center includes books, recordings, periodicals, and archives. While the bulk of the Hormel Center’s book holdings are available on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, the GLBT archival collections call the 6th floor their home.

The first archival collection, the Peter Adair Papers, was accessioned in 1991. Since that time, the GLBT archives has grown with the addition of dozens of collections, such as the Harvey Milk Archives—Scott Smith Collection, and the Barbara Grier—Naiad Press Collection.

The newspaper clipping pictured here is from the Evander Smith—California Hall Papers (GLC 46). It documents an event that will soon mark its own 50th anniversary: police harassment at the January 1965 New Year’s dance hosted by the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. This incident served as a rallying point for San Francisco’s emerging GLBT community. It’s worth noting that this was four years before New York’s more well-known Stonewall riots.

These rich and exciting archival collections are used on a daily basis by researchers, filmmakers, authors, students, and the general public from the Bay Area and beyond. They add immeasurably to our understanding of the City’s diverse communities, and to the Library’s Special Collections.

50 years of special collections

Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight: SF History Center Maps

Maps of San Francisco form a substantial part of the San Francisco History Center collections. Formerly the town of Yerba Buena, the city blossomed from a single residence built by William Richardson in 1835 to a population of over 825,000 sharing 49 square miles. The Center’s map collection is a rich source for historians, artists, and others curious about the development of San Francisco.

While street maps predominate, the collection includes topographic maps, fanciful picture maps, and property maps. Sanborn fire insurance maps and various “block books” complement property maps formerly held by the City Recorder. Views of the entire city, as well as distinct neighborhoods and aspects, can be found here. Maps are stored in various ways: rolled, folded, flattened and encapsulated, or framed. Some are still bound into the books in which they were originally published.

The Commercial, Pictorial and Tourist Map of San Francisco, created by lithographer August Chevalier and printed by Galloway Litho in 1904, is one of the special maps which are located in the San Francisco History Center. The map combines a fairly accurate representation of streets, but highlights significant landmark buildings of the time, as well; in 1904, high-rises were new to the landscape.

Chevalier followed up this map with the Chevalier Illustrated Map Guide of San Francisco, “The Exposition City” in 1913, in preparation for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, to be held two years later.

San Francisco History Center librarians can help patrons locate these and other materials, including specific maps, whether searching by date, subject or publisher. Many of the materials in the Center are rare or fragile and most are kept in closed stacks. Not all items are catalogued, so please ask for help if you are unable to find a specific item.

50 years of special collections

Monday, August 25, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years: Spotlight on the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor

Nat Schmulowitz reading in the Rare Book Room,
Old Main Library, circa 1960s

This week the spotlight is on the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor (SCOWAH), which is actually sixty-seven years old! One of the earliest special collections to be included in the newly formed Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in 1964, SCOWAH began with ninety-three jest books, presented to the Library on April 1, 1947 by attorney and Library trustee Nat Schmulowitz, as a measure of his interest in the library and the people of San Francisco. His bibliophilic activities began considerably earlier, though, perhaps by chance. In a letter to the Saturday Review's Jerome Beatty (2 June 1958), Nat wrote: “You have asked how I happened to get involved in ‘this business of humor.’ It started with a reading excursion in which I was engaged about thirty years ago, when I happened to note in Much Ado About Nothing that Beatrice said “I had my good wit out of the Hundred Merry Tales.” --(Act II, Scene I).

Nat Schmulowitz letter to Jerome Beatty, June 2, 1958

"I became curious about the reference and decided to discover whether Shakespeare was engaged in an inventive literary allusion or whether there really was a book of anecdotes entitled Hundred Merry Tales.”  

Indeed there was, and so the Hundred Merry Tales was practically the first book in Nat’s collection and among the first to be presented to the San Francisco Public Library. Throughout his lifetime, Nat took a lively interest in the collection, acquiring for the Library more than 13,000 books on the many facets of wit and humor. By the end of 2013, the collection numbered more than 23,600 items, and is considered the largest collection of its kind in the world.
Comedian Phyllis Diller and Nat Schmulowitz, circa 1962

50 years of special collections