FALL, 2020

News of the Mercantile Library

The Mercantile Library is Celebrating its 175th Birthday!

On April 9, 1846 the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association opened its doors in the old Exchange Building near the riverfront at Main and Pine, moving briefly to other rented homes until settling in 1854 at 510 Locust Street, where it lived vibrantly and actively for eight generations, until reestablishing itself in 1998 on the University of Missouri- St. Louis campus for a new generation, the only early American subscription library ever to have survived the ages to reinvent itself as a university library special collection of vast proportions.

This 175-year-saga is a circular story of community pride and resilience. The Mercantile, founded by civic leaders, philanthropic merchants and leaders in frontier times, created a library which educated and shaped civility and discourse. It had  its home—St. Louis—at heart in its plans and civic-minded aspirations at every turn; when the Mercantile affiliated with the University, its traditions and heritage were protected and preserved by the land-grant university and the community at large. As one of the earlier leaders of the Mercantile eloquently put it, the Mercantile, “nurtured by the efforts of so many for so long, became at last an indispensable cultural resource in St. Louis, and merely to have seen the changes and recurring cycles of the long past allowed it to transcend itself.” That was said nearly a century ago about the Mercantile, and it could be added that perspective gained from the collections and heritage of this institution’s long past allows the Mercantile to engage in the pressing needs of this day and time, and to help point the way by example to the future, to future students, scholars, supporters and a staff benefitting from a very special place and the dynamic application of its collections for understanding and service.

The staff of the Mercantile is gratified to serve the community at this special time. In the coming year lectures, events, tours, receptions and exhibitions will be combined to help celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Library. On the eve of the Civil War, our founders celebrated the 25th Anniversary by using it in service for the Union cause. The 50th Anniversary saw the construction of a fire proof edifice to preserve its great collection, at the time one of the ten largest libraries in America. The 100th Anniversary was a time when the Library renewed its commitment to aiding in support of the St. Louis business community by building relationships with companies to maintain a strong, resurgent downtown, staying an active resource, immeasurably aiding in historic preservation at a time of urban renewal. The 150th Anniversary saw the Mercantile reengage dramatically with higher education in its historic affiliation to benefit St. Louis students, and to locate in an underserved part of our community for the shared goals of diversity and equity. 

The Mercantile has much of which to be proud and to celebrate as we commit to the future. In the months ahead members and friends will be invited to special programs and mailed invitations for virtual and limited events, and if we cannot fit everything in one year we want to accomplish, we will spill over into 2022! You will be invited to help us celebrate with opportunities to meet financial goals and initiatives. We will all be able to pass the Mercantile’s special St. Louis and national heritage to the future as we move into a new era of which the Library’s very storied existence helps point the way.
Happy Birthday to the Mercantile Library!


Beginning April 9, 2021: “A Nation, A City, and Its First Library: Americana as a Way of Life at the St. Louis Mercantile Library for 175 Years," an exhibition throughout the combined galleries of the Mercantile Library; be on the lookout for invitations to a series of special receptions led by our director, John Hoover (limited capacity), with surprises and special showings of little-known Mercantile Library treasures.

The second Mercantile Library building at 510 Locust Street, St. Louis.
Many Cultures and Places: A Diversity of new
Acquisitions for the Mercantile’s Special Collections
 
Over the past few months our generous donors have helped in many ways in our effort to further the research mission of the Mercantile, allowing our library to collect, preserve and present to readers superb collections for many important projects of much urgency and relevance in today’s world, demonstrating once again how a history library preserves for the future. 

For the Nash Collection of Africana and African-Americana, the Library has acquired books and rare newspapers, including a unique survival-- a broadside handed out door to door in St. Louis in 1916 drawn by illustrator Jack Smith fighting an ordinance, immediately cast out by the courts as unconstitutional, attempting legislated residential segregation. This broadside represents the efforts of citizens and the local St. Louis press’ efforts to fight this betrayal of civil rights which it represented in the industrial north at the beginning of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to better jobs and hoped for opportunity. In itself, the broadside, never before preserved in a St. Louis library collection due to the rarity caused by the fly away ephemeral nature of all handbills, represents the force of justice and the fight for freedom as a dramatic artifact. This summer a prize document related to this struggle was also added, the original printing by the NAACP of Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” oration delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This precious document also preserves other speeches by the March’s leadership, including that by the youngest at that time, John Lewis.
Booklet containing speeches from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Nash Collection of Africana and African-Americana at the St. Louis Mercantile Library
1916 broadside by illustrator Jack Smith.
Nash Collection of Africana and African-Americana at the St. Louis Mercantile Library
The Library’s preeminent Indian Captivity collection, a flagship of its Native Americana holdings, has added two different printings of a rare and seminal account of a frontier woman, Susannah Johnson, who was captured during the French and Indian War near the fort that became Charlestown, New Hampshire, and subsequently returned home via a sea voyage as a celebrity and hostage on the world stage. The later editions (1834 and 1841) of the captivity show the evolution of a story retold at every turn by camp fires and hearths in early America, and can be studied for the ways in which all of these stories evolved for literary and political needs in their day as the conflicts with native Americans continued to unfold to tragic resolution.
The Mercantile Lanning Collection is one of the largest special collections on Latin America in our region. Its newest additions are two rare engravings used for Mexican popular press illustrations in the late 19th century by the important Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Posada’s hypnotic world of the human condition—in love and war, life and death, festivals and emergencies is appreciated worldwide. These two illustrations, one of an earthquake in Mexican village, and another on the symbols and language of love and courtship (the latter unrecorded in any library), show the enormous vibrancy of this gifted artist’s work. 
Early St. Louis could not have been more diverse, with cultures intermixed in an extraordinary tapestry of custom and languages and lore at every street corner. Indians, African-Americans, French, Spanish, Germans and Anglos created an early urban setting not overtaken in the American west in size nor importance for generations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Two documents recently added to the Mercantile manuscript research collections reflect this multi-heritage; one is an unrecorded amended petition from 1846 by family members for continuing dispersal of the estate of a founding father of St. Louis, Franco-American Auguste Chouteau; and, just in time for our celebration of Missouri statehood, a document recording the continued use a few years after 1821 of the “room in which it happened," the old Missouri Hotel, an indenture between John Scudder and Benjamin Turnbull to lease that venerable stone building on Main Street, where the state’s constitution was drawn up by the Missouri General Assembly into a tavern and “house of entertainment," giving new meaning to the idea of a building falling on hard times.
1846 Choteau estate petition. 
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Document detailing continued
use of the Missouri Hotel.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
New K-12 Curriculum Project
 
The St. Louis Mercantile Library is proud to have launched a new k-12 virtual outreach program. This innovative distance learning field trip is designed as a tool for learners to expand their research skills. Students are guided through a series of videos and assignments that teach them about our library and how they can use primary sources to enhance their understanding of topics in history. 

Early in July, as the fall semester approached and the pandemic showed no signs of slowing, we recognized the challenge educators and students would be facing. We also recognized an opportunity for our institution to expand its outreach to new audiences, while providing critical support and resources to our community. Two of our newest staff members, one a former middle school educator and the other the parent of a second grade student, collaborated to develop this new program. Alyssa Persson, Aubash Collections Access Librarian, was one of the staff working on the project. “This program is near and dear to me as a former teacher. It is a resource I would have been thrilled to utilize in my own classroom, as it brings primary sources directly to students in a meaningful way. It is so important that students and educators see the Mercantile Library as an invaluable resource available to them, and I think this program is a significant step in that direction.”

We pulled from Missouri Department of Education learning standards and utilized the expansive collection of the library to create the program. Although we hope to engage and partner with local schools and homeschool organizations, the program is free and open to the public. Anyone with access to a web browser can use this program.  Sara Hodge, Pott Waterways Curator, helped develop much of the pilot program. “There’s such great opportunity for growth. We built a framework that we can expand and take in new interesting directions. Our collection is so vast, we can create timely and relevant content to engage learners around the world. And now, with the pandemic forcing students and educators to explore virtual learning, we’ve found the pathway to deliver it.”

The program currently has content available for grades 6-12, but staff are working to add new topics for additional grades. To access the program or learn more visit the Anniversary Educational Series on our library homepage.

Board Spotlight: William R. Piper
In early Fall the Mercantile Library was pleased to welcome new Board of Direction President, William R. Piper. President Piper (known to many as Bill) has been on the Mercantile Library Board of Direction for nearly a decade, having acted as both Counsel and Secretary in past terms.

President Piper grew up in St. Louis, MO and carries degrees from the University of Virginia (History), Washington University School of Law and the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College. His current law practice has centered on estate planning and administration as well as representing small companies.

President Piper kindly obliged us with some of his earliest and fondest memories of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association:       

I don’t really know when the Mercantile wasn’t part of my life. Some early memories of going downtown include a trip with my mother to the top of the building on Locust, negotiating my way past statuary in the lobby and standing about at the circulation desk. I hardly recall going into the reading room very much until I had, many years later, returned to St. Louis from a period of active duty in the Army. My office was downtown at that point and, while hardly raucous, sometimes a quiet place to sit outside the office was the best place to be to compose whatever it was on which I was workingThe other main feature of the Mercantile I remember from years past is the episodic arrival of the catalogues. I really think I actually read through more than half of the ones which fell into my hands over the years.”

Piper had this final sentiment to share: “I am intrigued always by materials about railroads and water transportation. No piece of knowledge is unimportant.” 
   
Spotlight on Charles Brown and Reference Services
One could say that the most important place within the Mercantile Library isn’t the Vault, it’s the reading room. That’s the place where the collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library and the library’s patrons come together. Some days it can be a busy place with students, researchers from off campus, members, and faculty from the University of Missouri-St. Louis all sharing space at the same time.

Keeping up with all of those patrons is the Mercantile Library’s reference team, led by Oliver M. Langenberg Curator of Reference, Charles Brown. We wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight Charles and the work he does as the head of Reference and learn what patrons can do to make the most of our collections.


Q. How long have you been with the Mercantile?
December 1, 2020 will mark 38 years of continuous service to the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Q. How long have you worked in Reference?
36 years. I was appointed Reference Assistant and Operations Manager in 1984 by Elizabeth Kirchner (then Head Librarian).  In 1985 I was named Reference Librarian & Operations Manager by Elizabeth Kirchner.


Q. When did you become Head of Reference?
John Hoover appointed me Head of Reference & Assistant to the Director in 2000. I was named The Langenberg Curator of Reference in 2018.  I was also assigned the University Archivist post in 2018. It is the duty of the University Archivist to preserve and make accessible those records of enduring historical, operational and legal value to the University.


Q. What would you tell a potential researcher is the most important thing to do before contacting us?
Please visit our website at: www.umsl.edu/mercantile/ then contact us. Please be prepared for a thorough reference interview so that we can better accommodate you.


Q. Do you have one reference question or researcher that you consider to be the most interesting or your favorite question to have worked on?
A great majority of them are interesting and most of them, including but are by no means limited to, historians, writers/authors, movie/play producers and directors. Because these researchers bring the past to present, they seek our rich resources in Western Americana and rare books, newspaper and photo archives, historic manuscripts and others.

I‘d say my interests are in direct proportion to the interests of my researchers. If they’ve determined to call on the Mercantile Library, then we’re determined to assist. They have access to a premier collection of material and I’ve been blessed with both the privilege and pleasure to assist with their varied interests over the years.


NOTE: As a side note, I have footprints here in the Thomas Jefferson Library dating back to 1975 when I was employed as a student assistant in the Shelving Department.
* * *
Charles’ point about looking at our website and preparing for a thorough reference interview is all the more important these days. The Reference Room’s capacity has been limited due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the reference team is working hard to make sure that patrons can find what they need as quickly and efficiently as possible. Nobody wants to see someone come in and not be able to get what they need.

In addition to the Mercantile’s many archival collections, many of the rare books within the collection are also accessible in the reading room. Patrons can check the UMSL online catalog to examine the rare book holdings. Patrons can also get immediate access to some volumes and archival materials via the St. Louis Mercantile Library’s Digital Library.

It’s still important for patrons to check with the reference staff before visiting as some material may be on exhibition or some specific volumes may not be available due to condition but other versions/editions may be available in their place.

We want to give special thanks to Charles Brown for his time with our questions and look forward to helping many people this year with their reference questions. We hope to see you all back in the library soon!
Recent Acquisitions for the Art Collection: 
Sculpture by R. H. Dick and Paintings by Harry Mathes
 
The Mercantile Library Art Museum is excited to share information about three important additions to the collection; a recent bronze sculpture by R. H. Dick, and two oil portraits by Harry Mathes. Many of our members and friends will remember the 2011 exhibition Frontier Faces: Missouri History in Bronze that featured nine sculptures by St. Louis artist R. H. Dick. The artist has continued this comprehensive look at the history of Missouri through sculptural depictions of important cultural and historic figures. Most recently, the Library acquired the newest addition to the series, John Neihardt’s Black Elk & the Sacred Pipe. The work commemorates John Neihardt (1881-1973) and his landmark 1932 publication Black Elk Speaks.
R.H. Dick, John Neihardt’s Black Elk & the Sacred Pipe, bronze, 2019.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
John Niehardt was born in Illinois, but his family lived in several mid-western and plains states before settling in Branson, Missouri in the 1920s. Niehardt, like many authors, had a varied career, but his notable Missouri connections include writing literary criticism for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1930s and 40s, and from 1949 to 1961 he was the Poet in Residence and Lecturer in English literature at the University of Missouri – Columbia. In the 1940s he also served as Director of Information for the Office of Indian Affairs, a position that reflects his role as a leading historian of Native American life and culture. Although twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Niehardt’s work was not selected, although he received other more regional awards, such as being named the Poet Laureate of Nebraska and the Plains in 1921.
 
Niehardt’s fascination with Native Americans was fueled by an early job working with a trader in Nebraska where he met and formed friendships with members of the Omaha nation. In 1930 he arranged to meet the Lakota Sioux holy man Black Elk. Reportedly, after their meeting Black Elk said “I feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the other world. He has been sent to learn what I know.” The following spring Neihardt began interviewing Black Elk and two years later published Black Elk Speaks.
Title page, Black Elk Speaks, Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogalala Sioux,
as told to John G. Neihardt (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1932)
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Black Elk’s story, as presented by Niehardt, chronicles Black Elk’s early vision that showed him rising to a cloud world where six grandfathers give him sacred objects and empowered him to maintain his people’s sacred hoop or medicine wheel used in health and healing practices. The book also provides Black Elk’s recollections of pivotal moments in the transition of the Sioux nation from pre-reservation to reservation culture, including the Battle of Little Bighorn, the ghost dance, and the massacre at Wounded Knee. Neihardt readily acknowledged that he had edited Black Elk’s words, which came to him through his daughter’s transcription of Black Elk’s son’s verbal translations, so although there are questions regarding the accuracy of the book’s presentation of Black Elk’s words, it remains an influential book to this day.
Standing Bear, Black Elk at the Center of the Earth, illustration for Black Elk Speaks.
With a master’s degree in History and a background in teaching that subject, Bob Dick naturally gravitates to historical themes that he values for their educational and aesthetic possibilities. His artistic inspiration comes from the work of Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Frederick Remington (1861-1909), and Bettina Steinke (1913 - 1999), as well as the artists of the Taos School. Like them, for much of his career Dick spent large portions of each year in the American west and southwest, developing life-long friendships with Native Americans, and creating artwork that depicted the depth and beauty of their art and culture. The Mercantile Library Art Museum is proud to have formed a significant collection of sculpture, paintings, and drawings by this noted St. Louisan, as well as holding his artist’s archives. The Library was very grateful to also to acquire several preparatory sketches related to this sculpture. These show the artist’s working process as he refined his ideas for the final version of John Neihardt’s Black Elk & the Sacred Pipe. This important sculpture will be on view in the Library later this fall.
R.H. Dick, preparatory drawing of Black Elk, ink on paper, not dated.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
The other significant donation being celebrated here came from the estate of Regene Braun, daughter of Harry Mathes (1882 - 1969). In 2009-2010 Ms. Braun donated to the Mercantile Art Museum five oil paintings, one watercolor and a collage, as well as numerous figure sketches by Mathes. The two paintings received just this week were promised to the Mercantile at that time but retained by Ms. Braun for obvious sentimental reasons; they are her father’s self-portrait and one he painted of her at age 3.  Mathes’ self-portrait was created early in his career but is still a dramatic and expressive image with dynamic brushwork and rich coloring. The brushwork is similar in Mathes’ portrait of his daughter entitled Reggie, but the bright color palette reflects the child’s open, cheerful expression.
Left: Harry Mathes (1882-1969), Self-Portrait (detail), ca. 1910, oil on board.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum, Gift of Regene Braun.

Right: Harry Mathes (1882-1969), Reggie, ca. 1910, oil on canvas.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum, Gift of Regene Braun.
Mathes was born in Russia and emigrated to St. Louis with his parents as a child.  He began his art training in St. Louis before taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. By 1905 Mathes had moved to New York where he found work as an illustrator for Harper’s MagazineScribner’s Magazine, and as a book illustrator. He traveled to Paris, London, Munich and through Italy from 1911-1914, although in the last year of the trip he had a close call with the law while sketching in Sunderland, England. Although this would seem a harmless activity, Mathes was arrested and held by the British police under suspicion that he was trying to obtain information about troop movements; Mathes was sketching the docks and the areas where soldiers were housed. He was released after a week so one can assume no espionage took place. 

Mathes returned to the United states and took a job in his family’s shoe company, managing a store in Bartlesville, Oklahoma through the 1920s, while taking some time away to study at the Art Students’ League in New York with noted artists Robert Henri and George Luks. He also became a member of the Society of Independent Artists, did illustration work for the railroads, and experimented with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Although still managing the shoe store, Mathes also had work accepted at the Whitney Museum Annual Exhibition in 1922-23. Mathes’ key connection to St. Louis came in the late 1920s. He returned to St. Louis in 1925 and became involved with the crowd of artistic bohemians who met regularly at the Blue Lantern Inn located on the riverfront near the Old Rock House. While he remained in St. Louis for only a few years, during this time Mathes became friends with the noted St. Louis artist Joe Jones 1909-1963), who was also part of the Blue Lantern Inn group. In a 1935 article in Time magazine, Jones was quoted as saying that “Harry Mathes was the only artist who ever taught me anything.” This was high praise from Jones who is otherwise considered a self-taught painter.  

By the 1930s Mathes was established again in New York, where  he continued working in illustration as he worked to gain broader recognition. In the 1950s he was exhibiting both individually and in group shows with some of the major names in modern art. In 1951 he had a one-man show at Gallery 99 in Greenwich Village, and the following year the gallery showed his collages in a small group show alongside sculptures by Louise Nevelson (1899 - 1988). Critics praised his ability to extract elements from Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and other movements to create his own aesthetic style, as in a 1951 review of an exhibition that featured “paintings of figures tangled in a mass of abstract planes and paint textures that both indicate and mask them.” The oil Green Woman, donated to the Mercantile in 2009, was exhibited in 1957 to positive reviews by D. Ashton of the New York Times as a “lovely study of a nude.” Mathes work is currently found in the collections of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as private collections. The Mercantile Library Art Museum expresses deep sympathy to the family of Regene Braun on her passing and gratefully accepts these two wonderful paintings from her estate as valued additions to the permanent collection.
Harry Mathes (1882-1969), Green Woman, 1956, oil on board.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum, Gift of Regene Braun.
Celebrating the Pott Waterways 35th Anniversary
 
This year the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library celebrates its 35th anniversary. Since its founding 175 years ago, the leaders of the St. Louis Mercantile Library have often had close personal connections to our nation’s inland rivers. In 1985, the library formalized this relationship, and built upon its already extensive river-related holdings, by forming the Pott Waterways Library. 

Over the last 35 years, the Pott Library has grown into one of the most extensive collections of historical waterways material in the nation. The collection includes more than 15,000 volumes dating from the beginnings of inland river navigation to present day, over 400 hundred linear feet of manuscripts, and over 10,000 photographs, in addition to large collections of river-related artifacts and ephemera, oral histories, films, prints, maps, and paintings.

We celebrate this anniversary and the combined efforts of hundreds of dedicated supporters over the last 35 years by continuing to care for and grow our collection, while serving our community and researchers around the world. Thank you to everyone who has helped make the Pott Library what it is today, and we look forward to another 35 years of excellence.
The library is named for Herman T. Pott, one of this century's best known and most
distinguished river transportation executives and pioneer river industry entrepreneurs.
From the Ruth Ferris Collection, Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library
Upcoming Event: 
The Autumn Fine Print Dealers' Showcase
& Yeatman Lecture on Art Connoisseurship

Friday, November 6
6:00 - 9:00 p.m. CST

Learn more about this free online event!
Register Here!

Stay connected to us on social media or
visit our
website for the most up-to-date information.

If you have any questions regarding specific programming please email mercantilelibrary@umsl.edu or call 314-516-7248.

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1 University Blvd | St. Louis MO | 63121
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