Henry Bartlett Van Hoesen was appointed Librarian in 1930, and despite the Great Depression and World War II, his 20-year tenure was marked by signal accomplishments, most notably the expansion of the John Hay Library and the doubling in size of the library’s holdings. Van Hoesen also was a very early adaptor of the then revolutionary medium of microfilm, which the library under his direction utilized to enhance its research capability by filming titles not in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays. He also took a lead role, along with the John Carter Brown Library, in filming rare imprints in the National Library of Chile, a project that came to an end due to World War II, but which even today is of such value to scholars that the films have been restored and reissued commercially.
Almost immediately after Van Hoesen became Librarian in 1930, spectacular acquisitions were made for the Lincoln Collection. These were the purchases, again underwritten by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., of Alonzo Chappel’s painting entitled “The Last Day of Lincoln” and a portrait of Lincoln, painted in early 1865, by Peter Baumgras. A bequest from the daughter-in-law of Alexander H. Ritchie added his painting, “The Death of President Lincoln,” to the display in the Lincoln Rooms during 1937.
Substantial additions to the Harris Collection were also made by Professor S. Foster Damon. He expanded the collection of hymnals and other forms of musical literature by purchasing Select Harmony (Farmington, Conn., 1779) by Andrew Law, Class of 1775, The Medley (Philadelphia, 1795) an early songster, and the Columbian Harmonist (New York, 1814) which contains one of the earliest recorded printings of “The Star Spangled Banner.” He obtained financial support from the University Library Committee for acquiring the collection of 1,500 books and pamphlets about Walt Whitman assembled by Henry S. Saunders. He then persuaded F. Monroe Endicott to donate a collection of over 350 pieces of sheet music with lithographed covers, published by Endicott & Co., New York, between 1830 and 1850.
A token copy of Horace’s Opera (Florence, 1482) selected from the library of William E. Foster, Class of 1873, was presented by his widow in 1934. The entire 600 volume Foster Horace Collection with its finely printed editions from the presses of Aldus, Elzevir, Estienne, Baskerville, Plantin and others came to Brown six years later.
Rounding out the decade was the 1937 deposit of the papers of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. This eccentric Providence author of fantasy and horror tales for the pulp magazines of the 1920s is now recognized as one of the seminal figures in the development of the science fiction genre. The present comprehensive collection includes more than 2,000 books and magazines, in numerous languages, containing material by or about Lovecraft plus thousands of original letters and manuscripts of his essays, fiction, and poetry.
Colonel Webster Knight, Class of 1876 and a long-time member of the Library Committee, bequeathed $150,000 in 1938 to build an extension to the overcrowded John Hay Library. Two additional gifts of $100,000 each, a bequest from William T. Peck, Class of 1870, and a donation by Zechariah Chafee, Class of 1880, provided “seed money” for the addition. Though much more modest in design than the grand marble structure of 1910, the 1939 addition to the west and north of the existing structure doubled the John Hay’s capacity to over 500,000 volumes. Among the more noticeable changes brought about by the addition were the division of the principal reading room into three distinct but interconnected areas employing bookshelves that matched the original wall paneling; moving the circulation desk into a more central location; and the creation of two reading rooms in the new addition itself. The reading room on the second floor of the addition, currently known as the Lownes Room, was designated as the first purpose-built reading room for Special Collections in the library’s history.
Colonel Knight’s bequest also included an almost complete collection of mint United States postage stamps, in blocks of four, along with mint and used singles and blocks of revenue stamps plus an endowment for supporting the collection.
The Knight Collection served as a magnet to attract many additional stamp collections, including the Peltz and Morriss Collections of Special Delivery stamps, in 1947 and 1960, and the George S. Champlin Memorial Stamp Collection of international issues, which began arriving in 1960 and continues to this day. A more recent major stamp collection was donated by Robert T. Galkin, Class of 1949, in 1995.
An important step in the development of Special Collections was the formation of The Friends of the Library in the late 1930s. The Friends, founded by Carleton Doty Morse, Class of 1913, gave the library an organization of bibliophiles whose purpose was to support expansion of the collections. Among the initial gifts attracted by The Friends was a collection of 32 manuscripts and poems written by John Hay and presented by his son, Clarence L. Hay, to W. Easton Louttit, Jr., Class of 1925, the newly appointed University Archivist.
Special Collections achieved official recognition as a separate department of the University Library in 1940, when Carl L. Cannon, Visiting Associate in Bibliography and author of American Book Collectors and Collecting, was charged with developing a policy for governing the collections scattered throughout seminar rooms and departmental libraries. Today’s separate administrative structure for Special Collections evolved from Cannon’s recommendations.
Also in 1940, the personal library of Dr. Solomon Drowne, Class of 1773, plus over 1,000 documents and letters relating to members of the Drowne family (1770 through 1940) were moved from Mt. Hygeia, Dr. Drowne’s home in Foster, Rhode Island, to Brown. This fine example of an 18th century American private library is preserved intact within Special Collections.
The 1940s saw a number of significant gifts to Special Collections. In 1942, the library received a collection of Napoleonic caricatures from Paul Revere Bullard, Class of 1877, a collection particularly rich in the satirical work of Rowlandson and Cruickshank. In the same year, the library received the Asa Cushman Collection of early American and British plays in parts and prompt copies, donated by the Cushman family. In 1943, the library received by bequest Mrs. Isabel Harris Metcalf’s Peaceana Collection of 2,000 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings relating to the League of Nations and the World Peace Movement. The Metcalf Peaceana Collection was soon joined by the Koopman Collection formed by Philip Darrell Sherman, Class of 1902, Professor of English at Oberlin College, and presented in honor of Librarian Harry Lyman Koopman. This collection contains over 5,000 first editions and rare books, manuscripts and association items, plus prints, drawings, and broadsides. It is a rich source for the study of English literature and the growth of fine printing from the works of Caxton and Chaucer in the 15th century to William Morris and William Butler Yeats in the 19th and 20th centuries. These were among the 38 named collections then administered by Marion E. Brown, the first Assistant in Charge of Special Collections.
Growth of Special Collections accelerated in 1948 when Brown University assumed ownership of the Annmary Brown Memorial, built by Civil War General Rush C. Hawkins and named in honor of his wife. The collections consisted of an internationally known incunabula collection as well as old master paintings and drawings, Revolutionary and Civil War manuscripts and documents, plus the personal correspondence of its founder. These incunabula along with others in Special Collections make up one of the largest collections of 15th century printed books owned by an American university. In order to better protect, preserve, and provide access to the Memorial’s collections, the books and manuscripts were transferred to the third floor of the John Hay Library in 1990; the Memorial itself and the majority of its paintings continue to be open to the public and the building serves as the home to Brown’s programs in Early Cultures, Medieval Studies, and Renaissance and Early Modern Studies.
It was also in 1948, with the establishment of the Charles Edwin Wilbour Memorial fund, that Brown’s collections in Egyptology began to assume national importance. Wilbour, Class of 1854, had been an ardent amateur Egyptologist and a bequest of his daughter, Theodora, established both Brown’s Egyptology department and an endowment for the acquisition of books.