Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
October 18, 1996
Library of Congress Acquires Notable Collection of Americana from Marian S. Carson of Philadelphia
The Library of Congress has concluded an agreement to acquire the Marian S. Carson Collection, believed to be the most extensive existing private collection of early Americana. The collection includes such important and diverse historical treasures as unpublished papers of Revolutionary War figures and the Continental Congress; letters of several American presidents, including Thomas Jefferson; a manuscript account of the departure of the first Pony Express rider from St. Joseph, Mo.; and what may be the earliest photograph of a human face.
The Carson Collection is an extraordinarily inclusive assemblage of material, numbering more than 10,000 American manuscripts, broadsides, pamphlets, photographs, prints and drawings, dating from before the Revolution to the end of the 19th century. It also includes an extensive library of several hundred American books printed before 1800, including numerous early children's books.
In its depth, variety and richness the collection provides extensive new documentation on the founding of the nation, the shaping of the national government and judicial system, and the development of nearly every realm of American endeavor, from education, religion and technology to industry, science and medicine.
Transfer of the collection was initiated in July with Mrs. Carson's donation to the Library of several highly important manuscripts, broadsides and photographs. Under the terms of the agreement between Mrs. Carson and the Library, the remainder of the collection will be conveyed to the Library over the next four years through a scheduled series of gifts and purchases.
In discussing her decision to place the collection at the Library of Congress, Mrs. Carson said: "I have known [the Library's] magnificent rare book and Americana collections for many years. It is the American institution most capable of caring for this vast and complex body of historical documents in its entirety, and of making them available to scholars."
The Marian S. Carson Collection was assembled primarily by Mrs. Carson, building upon a base of historical materials collected by her late husband, Joseph Carson, her late husband's father, Hampton L. Carson, as well as her grandfather, Pennsylvania historian Julius Sachse.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington termed the acquisition of the Carson Collection a historic event for the Library of Congress. "The Carson Collection is remarkable for its breadth and richness," said Dr. Billington. "It is the product of the sustained collecting activities of Mrs. Carson and other members of her family, efforts in the best tradition of American antiquarianism. We are immensely gratified by Mrs. Carson's decision to place the collection at the Library. Moreover, the nation's scholars are indebted to Mrs. Carson for her long and responsible stewardship of this remarkable archives. This is a collection informed by Mrs. Carson's scholarship and passion for the historical record."
Some of the highlights of printed Americana in the collection are: an extremely rare broadside printing (only two copies known) of the Declaration of Independence, believed to have been printed by Samuel Loudon in New York, circa July 10-20, 1776; letters of several U.S. presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe, and of several signers of the Declaration of Independence; and extensive files of manuscripts, broadsides and ephemera relating to American political and social history. Mrs. Carson also amassed extensive files of manuscripts and printed ephemera devoted to women's history, the development of the American textile industry, medicine, canals, early railroads and public institutions such as hospitals and schools. Notable among these is a large body of papers pertaining to the founding of the Free Quakers in America and to the Moravian community and its music.
Also notable is a volume of handwritten music scores by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the distinguished American composers of the 18th century. In this volume is a holograph copy of a 1778 "Toast" or celebratory song to honor Gen. George Washington, commander of the American Revolutionary army. The book of Hopkinson songs was once the property of Michael Hillegas (1729-1789), treasurer of the United States (1777-1789). A companion piece to the manuscript in the pictorial portion of the Carson Collection is Charles Balthazar Julien F,vret de Saint M,min's magnificent memorial portrait drawing of George Washington, produced circa 1800, the year of the first president's death.
Many of the rare books and pamphlets in the collection pertain to the early Congresses of the United States, augmenting the Library's unparalleled collection of political pamphlets and imprints. The Carson Collection adds to the Library's holdings the first presidential campaign biography, John Beckley's Address to the people of the United States with an Epitome and vindication of the Public Life and Character of Thomas Jefferson, published in Philadelphia in 1800. The book was written to counter numerous attacks against Jefferson's character, which appeared in newspapers and pamphlets during the bitter election campaign.
Another major portion of the Carson Collection consists of more than 150 daguerreotypes, photographs on glass, and early paper negatives and calotypes dating from the early years of photography in the United States, 1839 to 1854. The very infancy of American photography is represented by Robert Cornelius's October 1839 daguerreotype self-portrait. The catalog for the 1987 National Portrait Gallery exhibition on Cornelius termed the self portrait "the first true photographic portrait made in America, if not the world." In addition to eight daguerreotypes by Cornelius, the collection also includes major works by his contemporaries William G. Mason, Marcus Root, Paul Beck Goddard and Rembrandt Peale; daguerreotypes and paper negatives by Frederick and William Langenheim; and a self portrait daguerreotype by the pioneer Boston photographer Josiah Johnson Hawes. A number of these works, including Cornelius's self portrait, were shown at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and were acquired from the organizer of that display by Mrs. Carson's grandfather, Julius Sachse.
The Carson photographs strengthen the Library's already outstanding coverage of the beginnings of American photography. These strengths comprise, among other things, the major corpus of daguerreotype portraits from the Mathew Brady Studio in New York; John Plumbe Jr.'s daguerreotype views made in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in the mid-1840s; and Langenheim paper prints of New York and Philadelphia from the early 1850s. Several outstanding daguerreotypes of early fire company volunteers in the Carson Collection complement the Library's holdings of American occupational daguerreotypes.
The Carson Collection's more than 500 drawings, watercolors and silhouettes from the late 18th and early 19th centuries strengthen the vivid pictorial record of early American personalities, experiences and achievements in the Library's extensive existing historical prints and drawings collections. Among the Carson additions are a watercolor self portrait of the painter Gilbert Stuart, silhouettes from the Peale Museum, and James McIlvaine's watercolors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Civil War. An especially fitting addition is an 1856 watercolor drawing of the meeting of the Senate of the young African republic of Liberia. The work, rendered by primitive artist Robert K. Griffin, relates closely to 11 daguerreotype portraits of members of the Liberian Senate and other officers of the nation already in the Library of Congress collection. Liberia was settled by American freedmen and former slaves in the mid-1800s.
Funds for the purchase of a major portion of the Marian S. Carson Collection have been provided by the James Madison Council, a private sector support group of the Library of Congress, as well as David Koch of New York, James and Margaret Elkins of Texas, Charles and Norma Dana of Connecticut, and John W. Kluge, chairman of the Madison Council.
In recognition of her scholarship and stewardship of the collection, Mrs. Carson has been named Honorary Curator of the Carson Collection of Americana in the Library of Congress. Selections from the collection will be featured prominently in the Library's forthcoming exhibition "Treasures of the Library of Congress," which is supported by the Xerox Corporation and will open in the Thomas Jefferson Building in May 1997. They will also be available on the World Wide Web as part of the Library's National Digital Library Program (http://www.loc.gov/).
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