A Look Into McCabe’s Collections

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

A teapot with the famous inscription, “Am I not a man and a brother?”

Article by Allison Ranshous; photos by Ellen Sanchez.

While many of us have explored the floors of McCabe library, hunkered in the depths of its basement or talked with friends over coffee in the Reading Room, few know of the incredible breadth of McCabe’s holdings, from its historic archives to its rare book collections.

A fragment of George Washington’s coffin.

Over the course of a few afternoons, The Daily Gazette explored McCabe’s Rare Book Room (also referred to as the “Treasure Room”) and the Friends Historical Library, located on the first floor of McCabe by the circulation desk. Seen during these explorations was a collection of art books, various Quaker artifacts, and records of Swarthmore history, some of which are currently being digitized for student use.

McCabe library contains several different collections; other than the rare book collection located in the main part of McCabe, the library is home to the Peace Collection and the Friends Historical Library, both of which are national research centers that attract students from around the country.

The Friends Historical Library has always been independent of McCabe and has an incredible array of Quaker documents that give insight into local culture. Its curator is Chris Densmore. He welcomes students to explore the library, especially if they have a project related to Quaker history.

Quaker hat boxes from the mid- to late 19th century.

“I would love to see more Swarthmore students use the collections,” said Densmore. “There are all kinds of stories that haven’t been told.”

From the correspondences of Lucretia Mott, a major figure in the women’s suffrage movement, to rows of colorful Quaker hat boxes, the Friends Historical Library is a treasure trove of documents and artifacts that gave a glimpse into everything Quaker. One of the first daguerreotypes in America lives there, as do Moses Sheppard’s correspondences to Liberia, and college artifacts, such as a delft tile that decorated the Benjamin West house (now the Public Safety office) before its interior burned.

Part of the David H. Keller Collection of pulp fiction.

Humanities Librarian Anne Garrison led a tour of McCabe’s Rare Book Room. Located on the third floor of the library, in front of the main stairs, the room is a diverse repository of rare collections, most of them gifts to the College.

Among its many collections are the W.H. Auden Collection, which has Auden’s typewriter and annotated copies of his poems; the British Americana Collection; the Artists’ Book Collection; the David H. Keller Collection, a collection of science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines; and the James A. Michener Collection. While most collections are not being expanded, the Artists’ Book Collection is currently increasing its holdings.

The Artists’ Book Collection, instituted in 1937 by Charles Shaw, a College Librarian, includes many printing and art books. Many of these selections “challenge the definition of a ‘book’” and combine visual presentation with textual meaning, according to Garrison. One book called “Good Girls Don’t Eat Sweets” is in the shape of a box of chocolates, and another, about Sir Thomas Moore, is in the form of a s’more.

“Good Girls Don’t Eat Sweets.”
A book about Sir Thomas Moore in the form of a s’more.

Students looking for anything from an Auden letter to old copies of the Phoenix or Halcyon should contact Anne Garrison, or seek out help at the circulation desk. They can be examined in the seating area of the Friends Library.

These stories wait in carefully marked folders and boxes, behind the locked, caged doors of the archives or hidden among rows and rows of Michener — true college treasures.

You can also see more pictures of the Friends Historical Library or of the Rare Books Room collections.

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