Rare Book Catalog Project Update

Over the past summer I have become more acquainted with the library’s rare book collection than I ever thought was possible.I was very familiar with a small number of titles that I normally pulled from the library shelves to show to visitors, but the bulk of the collection remained largely unknown to me.Not cataloged and difficult to explore because of the many high shelves, the rare book collection was doing little except for collecting dust.

Last spring, when presented with the chance to participate in the Founding Fathers Library Consortium with Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall, I was delighted.The Library Consortium website already offers on-line and on-site researchers a digital catalog of library holdings at those two historic sites, and, hopefully, Stratford Hall’s rare books will be cataloged along with the others by next summer.Not only will researchers be able to discover which rare books are located here, but we will also be able to know what’s in the collection and where each title is located.

Work on the digital catalog project officially began last summer with the arrivals of intern Julia Hurwitz and a large stack of self-stick barcodes.Julia’s internship involved finding the books that matched the titles in the lists we already had, inserting acid-free identification strips in each book, putting identical barcodes on the i.d. strip and listing for each volume, and compiling a list of titles that were not represented on any list we had.Every day must have seemed like an Easter Egg hunt for Julia as she looked for titles on the duPont Room shelves, in the library basement, in my office, and in various historic buildings where they were used for props.She made many trips up and down the rolling library ladder and successfully located and barcoded over 2,500 books.Thanks to Julia’s unflagging energy, superb organizational skills, and multi-lingual skills, all of the rare books in the duPont Room were readied for the digital catalog.

Now I have the job of finishing the project!With the help of volunteer Maurice Capone, I have begun identifying and barcoding the rare books housed in the library basement.Some books are easy to find on the lists and others present challenges, particularly the books missing their title pages.I have a much higher regard for on-line research after discovering most of the elusive titles using Google search.I also have many more questions about our rare book collection that have tempted me to delve into the history of the collections themselves.

One of our major rare book collections, the Shippen family library, was given by the great, great-grandsons of Thomas Lee Shippen, William R. and Edward Shippen, partly in 1947 and partly in 1969.Thomas Lee Shippen was the grandson and namesake of Thomas Lee of Stratford, whose daughter, Alice Lee, married Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia.One volume in the collection of around 500 books is Thomas Lee Shippen’s handwritten library catalog dating to 1790. In this book Shippen carefully recorded loans of his books to friends.

Thomas Lee Shippen’s catalog identified the volumes in his personal library, a number of which were inherited from his father, Dr. William Shippen, and have Dr. Shippen’s name inscribed inside.Dr. William Shippen was noted for his service during the Revolution and for his role in medical education.

However, there are many more books in the Shippen collection that came to Stratford with bookplates other than the one used by Thomas Lee Shippen, including a beautiful armorial bookplate of William Byrd of Westover, armorial bookplates of John Banister, and others of James M. Nicholson.Where did they come from?A perusal of my trusty Lee family genealogical reference, Lee of Virginia 1642-1892, solved the mystery.

Thomas Lee Shippen (1765-1798) married Elizabeth Farley, widow of Col. John Banister, Jr., who was the daughter of James Parke and Elizabeth Byrd Farley [daughter of William Byrd and Elizabeth Carter]. Thomas and Elizabeth Shippen had two sons, one of whom [Dr. William Shippen] had a son Dr. Edward Shippen who married Rebecca Lloyd, daughter of James Macon Nicholson of Baltimore.Dr. Edward Shippen was a distinguished Civil War surgeon.Two of their grandsons [sons of Dr. Lloyd P. Shippen] who donated the family collection to Stratford, actually gave us several libraries accumulated by noteworthy families:

The Nicholsons of Maryland

[Nicholson bookplate]

James Macon Nicholson(1808-1875), inherited the library of his father, the Hon. Joseph H. Nicholson of Maryland, who was elected as Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress in 1777 (but did not serve) and as a Republican to the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Congresses.James’ daughter, Rebecca, had “Maryland, My Maryland” set to music and published, just as her grandfather, Judge Joseph Nicholson, had done for the “Star Spangled Banner.”Francis Scott Key had given his brother-in-law, Judge Nicholson, the handwritten manuscript of the “Star Spangled Banner” in 1814, and the document passed down for two generations in that family before it was sold in 1907 to the Walters Art Gallery.

The Banister Family of Virginia

The first Virginia naturalist was Rev. John Banister (c.1650-1692), a close friend of William Byrd I of Westover.Banister was accidently killed while exploring the lower Roanoke River with some men in Byrd’s entourage.After Rev. Banister’s death, his notes and collections were acquired by some of the most notable collections and libraries in England; however, William Byrd became the guardian of Banister’s namesake son and obtained his library of eighty or more volumes of natural history and travel books.Byrd’s library eventually passed to his grandson William Byrd III, whose widow sold the entire collection to a Philadelphia bookseller in 1777.The library was sold piecemeal.However, we know that some books (at least one or more!) were retained by Byrd’s daughter, Elizabeth.Banister’s ownership is signified by his name stamped in ink; thankfully, it was not obscured by William Byrd I’s ornate bookplate.

Another large part of the Shippen collection was owned by Col. John Banister, the grandson of the Rev. Banister mentioned above.Col. Banister (1734-1788) built Battersea in Petersburg, Virginia, and was a member of the first five Virginia Revolutionary Conventions, fought under General von Steuben, and was elected to (and served in) the Continental Congress in 1778.Banister’s widow married Thomas Lee Shippen and, evidently, moved the Battersea library with her to Philadelphia.

We will keep our readers updated on this fascinating rare book project, which will be completed this coming year.