Summer 2021

News of the Mercantile Library

Getting Back to Normal at the Mercantile
 
The Mercantile is slowly and carefully getting ready for a new year of classes and students beginning this fall. More chairs at the tables, expanded reading room facilities, and two years of preparing and cataloguing new holdings and acquisitions all make this a time of heightened anticipation. Meanwhile, the Library’s tours, meetings and exhibitions are increasing as docents reengage with larger groups, as tours are scheduled and as virtual meetings partially move to hybrid formats. Members should watch their email and regular mailboxes for new events and programs as we all still work together to provide our traditional service with the Mercantile’s treasured collections in its beautiful spaces.  Please watch for updates to this message as we continue to negotiate this unprecedented time in which we can all work together to get back to normal. At this stage, masks are urged if you are not vaccinated, especially on days when the library, campus, galleries, reading rooms and parking garages are moving to larger capacity. 

Recent Acquisitions: John Lee & Company Trade Ledgers
by Sara Hodge, Pott Waterways Curator

The Pott Waterways Library recently acquired a one-of-a-kind primary source documenting the birth of the steamboat trade in St. Louis. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the library acquired three 1830s trade ledgers from St. Louis grocers and commission merchants, the John Lee & Company.

The company was founded by John and Elliott Lee, and their brother-in-law Jesse Lindell, some of the best-connected mercantile families of early St. Louis. According to an advertisement in the 1837 Western Address Directory, the company was located along the river at Front Street and O’Fallon’s Row. The ledgers preserve their extensive trade network including hundreds of accounts from St. Louis-based individuals and businesses, non-local individuals and businesses, US military officers and employees, and steamboats.
The ledgers record thousands of transactions over a four-year period from 1830-1834. Local entries include the American Fur Company; St. Louis College; Missouri politician William G. Pettus, who was Secretary of the State Convention of 1821; and Armstead Lewis, a formerly enslaved man from Kentucky who himself claimed ownership of three enslaved people. Non-local and military entries include Moses D. Bates, founder of Hannibal, Missouri; Elisha McClelland, owner of a tavern in Columbia, Missouri; Taylor & Steel, wholesalers and grocers operating at Louisville, Kentucky; and Major Joseph V. Hamilton, sutler at Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River. These transactions provide invaluable insight into the local and regional economy less than a decade after St. Louis was incorporated as a city and Missouri achieved statehood. The steamboat transactions are perhaps the most significant, illuminating St. Louis’ central role in the dawn of the steamboat age.
The Zebulon M. Pike was the first steamboat to reach St. Louis in 1817. The years that followed saw a revolution in American commerce and shipping. By the time these ledgers were made, more than 200 steamboats plied the western rivers. The ledgers contain hundreds of entries from dozens of boats including the Yellow Stone, the first powered boat to reach above Council Bluffs on the Missouri River, and the boat that carried George Catlin and Karl Bodmer to the settlements of the Mandan Indians in 1832 and 1833 respectively. (Select works from Catlin and Bodmer’s Mandan collections can be viewed on exhibit at the library now.) The Warrior held accounts as well, a boat that played a decisive role in the Battle of Bad Axe during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Other boats include the Aleona, Argus, Ben Franklin, Chester, Crusader, Don Juan, Galiman, Globe, Heroine, Maryland, Michigan, Missourian, New Brunswick, Orion, Otto, Saint Louis, Sarpy, Traveler, and Wanderer. Merchandise included whiskey, port wine, brandy, gin and other spirits; food such as beef tongue, cheese oysters, bacon, hams, salt, almonds, cloves, crackers, cod, fish, and sugar; and goods including sperm whale candles, coffees and teas, Spanish “segars”, bars of lead, bags of shot, pearl ash, oars, hooks, brooms, poles, block and tackle, and buckets.

A true treasure, the Pott Library is honored to preserve these ledgers in our collections. Although too fragile and valuable to be handled by researchers directly, we hope to digitize the ledgers in the future and make this incredible primary source accessible to researchers around the world through our digital library.
Preserving Collections for the Future:
Art Conservation Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation
by Julie Dunn-Morton, Art Museum Curator
 
Last year the Mercantile Library’s historic art collection was recognized by the Henry Luce Foundation that provides grants to support the care and interpretation of American art in museums across the nation. Through this generous grant, the Mercantile Library Art Museum was able to hire local art conservators to clean and repair 14 paintings including 6 of their frames, and 1 sculpture, thereby insuring the stability and longevity of these important cultural objects.  The conservators provided care assessments for 30 works of art, and these 14 pieces were chosen based on urgency of need and the project budget. The remaining works can now be prioritized for future care, helping the Mercantile to refine its long-term conservation plan.
Left: Carl Brenner (1838 - 1888), untitled landscape, c. 1880, oil on canvas.
Right: George Eichbaum (1837-1919), Dr. John T. Hodgen, c. 1875, oil on canvas.
Left: Charles Jamieson (1921-2000), Still Life with Fruit, oil on canvas, n.d.
Right: Fred Conway (1900-1973), Rainy Night, Grand and Olive, oil on canvas, c. 1970.
Advancing Careers & the Library Field:
The William Lane Scott Family Collections Access Fellowship
for Emerging Library Professionals

by Julie Dunn-Morton, Art Museum Curator
 
In 2019 the Mercantile Library’s director, John Hoover, was contacted by a generous donor who had just been visited by two Mercantile curators. They were on a collections trip near the donor’s home in Texas, and they stopped by to say hello. The donor was so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of these young library professionals that she contacted their boss to explore the possibility of funding a term fellowship position to provide newly graduated librarians with the work experience necessary to launch a successful career. In 2020, thanks to the donor’s generous funding of the first two-year term, the Mercantile hired its first Collections Access Fellow as a full-time curator, and despite pivoting to a work from home situation in her second month, Alyssa Persson has proven that this fellowship is as valuable to the Mercantile as it is to the recipient. 

Inspired by this initial success, this position has now been permanently and fully endowed as the William Lane Scott Family Collections Access Fellowship for Emerging Library Professionals.  The position is named for William Lane Scott (1839-1891) who served on the Mercantile Library Board from 1875 to 1883 as recording secretary, in 1884 and 1885 as vice president, in 1886 and 1887 as president, and as a director from 1888 to 1890.
Retirements at the Mercantile:
The Professional Legacies of Charles Brown and Judith Friedrich
Charles (Charlie) Brown, Oliver M. Langenberg Curator of Reference

The Mercantile Library marks a milestone with the retirement of the legendary and iconic Charles Brown, the Oliver M. Langenberg Head of Reference at the Mercantile. Charles has held this post since 1984; previously, the reference room was led by talented individuals like Elizabeth Tindell and Mary Mewes all the way back to the 1880s, at a time when the Mercantile was the first library in St. Louis to establish reference services. In his long and distinguished career, Charles has helped researchers from all over the world, art historians, museum directors, best-selling authors, television celebrities, U.S. Senators and Congressional leaders, famed athletes, noted journalists, St. Louis mayors, and many, many more, and above all, educators and students at all levels of inquiry from middle school to post-doctoral candidates. Charles has been a true ambassador of the Mercantile’s special collections and all of  his colleagues have come to know him as “Mr. St. Louis” for the prodigious knowledge and learned skill he demonstrates in serving each patron. In order to help train the next generation of curators in the Mercantile’s Reference Division, Charles will still be with us for a limited part-time duration. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating Charlie for his abiding service to this institution.

Judith (Judy) Friedrich, Head of Cataloguing Services
Judith Friedrich, Head of Cataloguing Services at the Mercantile, is retiring this summer after more than thirty years of steady work in that key department. Judy has trained volunteers, created necessary key procedures, and has been a familiar face for many years while also assisting the staff for various events, activities and programs. She oversaw the reclassification and online conversion of the Mercantile’s entire collection, creating the fine digital catalogue our researchers enjoy today. We will deeply miss her support, kindness and hard work. A national search will begin in the coming weeks to fill this important post at the Mercantile, and we all send our congratulations and best wishes to a fine colleague.
Working at the Mercantile: A Graduate Assistant Summary
by Katie Lade, UMSL Graduate Student -  Museums,
Heritage, and Public History, M.A. 2021

 
When I first accepted my graduate assistantship with the St. Louis Mercantile Library, I really had no idea what to expect. I was newly admitted into graduate school, stepping out into the world on my own, and frantically adapting to a new relationship with school and work. But luckily, the St. Louis Mercantile Library welcomed me as family. They understood the feeling of starting a new chapter in life and encouraged me to explore my interests and curiosities. Even in the midst of the pandemic, Mercantile staff taught me the meaning of flexibility, passion, and patience. Through communication and collaboration, we as museum professionals are capable of preserving and collecting stories from our past, and my two-year assistantship provided me with one of the best experiences a graduate student could want during one’s formative years.

Stepping back and really evaluating my time at the St. Louis Mercantile Library is probably one of the hardest tasks I have had to tackle in my graduate career. How can I adequately describe the invaluable experience offered to me? How can I possibly describe the various skills and lessons I have learned during this short period of time? These questions have baffled me for the past week as I considered what to write in this small, but important post. The St. Louis Mercantile Library has allowed me to explore my interests, as I worked with my hands while constructing frames, caring for objects, and sifting through collections.

Most recently, my long-term project with the St. Louis Mercantile Library primarily focused on contributing to the new Anniversary Education Series. While I am not an expert in museum education or developing new programs from scratch, I tried to assist in any way possible. The staff graciously allowed me to assist in social media publications, research, and even in recording a voiceover for a virtual presentation. I know, I know—who really likes to hear their own voice? Most people do not, so that was a huge challenge, but this project made me pay attention to detail and learn all about the world of portraits and its relationship to geography.


For one of my final assignments, I was tasked with writing an e-blast, or an email publication about a specific topic. My topic was English Language Day, and it was complicated, exciting, and challenging. While researching, the Mercantile encouraged me to dig into the special collections and scan prints of books we have all read in English class, like Romeo and Juliet and the Canterbury Tales. As a student of history, this was such an exciting time for me. Just to get up close and visualize some of the most influential prints of our time made my heart race, and to write about this topic for others to read about truly made my day. This moment will forever be a cherished memory, especially as I consider future research projects.

Throughout the two years, I explored the world of fine art, collections, conservation, and much more. My tasks differed each day, something I truly love in a work environment. One day I focused on reframing portraits, while another day I’d spend time scanning rare books. The array of duties offered to me enhanced my understanding of what an average day as a museum professional looks like—and I loved every second. The staff members all held their own specialties, and always offered a helping hand whenever I required assistance, or even just wanted to spend some time chatting about the collection. Their passion for the material exudes with their actions and steps taken towards caring for the institution; I can only hope to share this same attitude with others as I advance in my career and mentor future emerging museum professionals. 
Updates from the Library’s Anniversary Educational Series
 by Sara Hodge, Pott Waterways Curator
During the spring of 2021 the Mercantile’s Anniversary Educational Series focused on expanding our outreach, strengthening our relationships with local schools, and working with homeschool communities across the state. This summer we are working to enhance the program's accessibility for non-English speakers, as well as vision and hearing-impaired users. We are also developing a virtual student tour of our 175th anniversary exhibit and new programs for the fall semester, including a program geared for grades 3-5 on Missouri history and a stem-based program for middle and high school students on early Missouri scientists and inventors. Check back this September to view the new content.
The Autumn Fine Print Dealers’ Showcase &
Yeatman Lecture Returns to the Saint Louis Club

 by Brittney West, Library Assistant
 
If you missed experiencing this showcase and gala through the elegant setting of the Saint Louis Club and Ballroom, fret not: The Autumn Fine Print Dealers’ Showcase and Yeatman Lecture on Art Connoisseurship is returning to this classic venue on November 19, 2021, marking the event’s 3rd annual occurrence. While the Mercantile staff planned strategically to coordinate a successful virtual showcase in the fall of 2020, we are eager to welcome back friends, members, and the fine art, map, rare book and print dealers to mingle together once again under one roof.

For this year’s Yeatman Lecture, our Executive Director John Hoover will give a special talk centered on pictorial maps, accompanied by a few physical examples that viewers will have the opportunity to see up-close and personal. This presentation will also be video recorded for those unable to attend in person. After the presentation concludes, guests will have the opportunity to browse the booths of visiting print dealers from all corners of the states; anticipated dealers among these include Kodner Gallery, Mark O. Howald Fine Art & Antiques, Philadelphia Print Shop West, Stevens Fine Art, Susan Teller Gallery, and many more.

Mark your calendars now for Friday, November 19, 2021 and plan to attend this wonderful Autumn Fine Print Dealers’ Showcase and Yeatman Lecture on Art Connoisseurship at the Saint Louis Club, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Keep an eye out for more information on how to register coming soon!
Guests enjoying the first Autumn Fine Print Dealers' Showcase & Yeatman Lecture
at the Saint Louis Club and Ballroom, November 15, 2019.
Upcoming Events

Americana "Coffee in the Gallery" Curator Series


Thursday July 29, 2021 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
New Americana: Personal History
presented by Alyssa Persson, Aubash Collections Access Librarian

Thursday August 26, 2021 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Frederick Oakes Sylvester: An American Artist in Nature
presented by Julie Dunn-Morton, Curator of Fine Art Collections

Thursday September 23, 2021 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Celebrating the Women of the Mercantile:
Authors, Researchers, Activists & Beyond

Presented by Sara Hodge, Curator of the Pott Inland Waterways Library


Thursday November 4, 2021 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Passing Trains That Have No Name:
John Barriger's Railroad Scrapbooks

Presented by Nick Fry, Curator of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library


These events are hybrid.
View ticketing and registration information on this printable flyer.
LIMITED COPIES LEFT!
 
A Nation, A City, & Its First Library: Americana As a Way of Life at the St. Louis Mercantile Library for 175 Years
by John N. Hoover

Exhibition Catalogue, Hard Bound

$45 for non-Mercantile Members
$40 for Mercantile Members

Visit the Mercantile Gift Shop to purchase your copy today!
 

COMING THIS FALL!
 
175 Years of Art at the St. Louis Mercantile Library: 
A Revised Second Edition of the Handbook to the Collection
by Dr. Julie Dunn-Morton

 
Watch for more information on this publication coming in early fall!

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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