Archives News

Special Collections Research Center

In December 2011 the Kelvin Smith Library acquired the Archives of the Cleveland Play House. Founded in 1915, the Cleveland Play House is America’s first professional regional theatre. The archives includes correspondence, photographs, posters, legal and financial records, design drawings, audio and video tapes from the founding of the Play House through 2011.


"When one surveys the existing and available archival record of professional theatre, it would be hard to find a comparable collection,” said Arnold Hirshon, Associate Provost & University Librarian. “The Cleveland Play House archives are an unparalleled resource for researchers studying the emergence and development of the American regional theatre movement, as well as a treasure trove of information about the general and cultural history of Cleveland." Before the collection can be used and digitized, it must be processed.


The Kelvin Smith Library’s mission is to make the collection available to scholars and theatre-lovers around the world. To do so, we must organize and describe more than 1,000 boxes of archival records, and then digitize the collection in order to make the history of the Cleveland Play House freely available online. Processing, estimated to be a three-year, 5,000-hour project, started in January 2012. The intention is to open each series for use as it is processed, rather than waiting for the entire collection to be processed.
We hope you will consider giving generously to support this important project. Please click HERE to learn more about the Archives and Support the Archives Now!


The Special Collections blog will report on our progress and describe some of the treasures revealed during processing.  Check back here for updates specific to the Play House Collection.

Play House Updates:

  • The Allston Dana Papers and the Panama Canal   

    August 15th marked the 100-year anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. Coincidentally, August also brought a visit from Dr. Peter H. Dana who had the distinct pleasure of conducting research about the canal in his grandfathers’ papers. Housed in the Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections, The Allston Dana Papers include material regarding the design of the third lock of the Panama Canal as well as the design or study of the Delaware Bridge, the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the Triborough Bridge complex. The collection includes blueprints, drawings, reports, photographs and correspondence.

    "Figure 1 from Appendix 2 from “The Report of the Governor of the Panama Canal. 1947” shows only the thirty possible isthmian routes still being considered in the mid 20th century." Image and caption courtesy of Dr. Peter H. Dana. From the Allston Dana Papers, Box 2.

    Dr. Dana, an Electronic Navigation, Precise Positioning, and Geographic Information Systems Research and Development consultant, has studied the development of routes across the isthmus for a number of years. He tells us “The Nica canal notion (never far from public discourse during the last two centuries) was the basis for my interest in Greytown, Nicaragua, the place considered in my 1999 dissertation, Diversity in Descriptions of a Destroyed Place: Greytown, Nicaragua. Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin. ”

    Dr. Dana continues to write about the region, most recently contributing a chapter entitled “Cutting Across” to Mapping Latin America: Space and Society, 1492-2000. Jordana Dym and Karl Offen, Editors, 2011. Of his time spent working with The Allston Dana Papers, he shares "I really enjoyed seeing my grandfather’s name at the bottom of Panama Canal Documents."

    Photo courtesy of Dr. Peter H. Dana. From:"Panama Canal Third Locks project Miraflores locks drawings, 1912-1913, 1941." The Allston Dana Papers, Box 6

    In preparation for Dr. Dana’s visit, we reviewed the existing HTML finding aid for The Allston Dana Papers and determined that it was a good candidate for our EAD conversion project. For this project, our legacy finding aids are being enhanced with additional descriptive material and converted into Encoded Archival Descriptions using the OhioLINK EAD Finding Aid Creation Tool. We are excited about providing this new level of access to our collections and look forward to posting more updates in the near future.

    For more information contact the Special Collections reference desk at

  • Posters From Our Fall Exhibit: "Around the World in 80 Books"   

    The Scholarly Resources and Special Collections team collaborated on an exhibit this fall entitled "Around the World in 80 Books", a presentation of travel-related books and manuscripts in accord with the 2013 Octavofest Travel theme. Over the past year or so the team has experimented with selection and display of large framed images on the walls in the Hatch Reading Room to complement the display of materials in cases. For our Travel exhibit the following images were gathered from books, archives and manuscript collections:

    To learn more about the Travel exhibit please feel free to contact us at or 216.368.0189.

  • Monitoring the Environment   

    If asked, many people would define a library as a building that houses books. While this is an adequate description, many people don’t realize the sheer amount of personnel, knowledge and work needed in order to keep a library running smoothly, efficiently, and into the future. Books don’t magically appear on the shelves, nor do they stay pristine since their acquisition. Like objects and paintings in a museum, books prefer certain environmental conditions.

    Two of some of the most important controllable conditions (non-controllable would be: theft, fire, dog-chewing, etc.) are temperature and humidity. Since books are made of different materials such as paper, cloth, leather, glue, etc., determining an ideal environment is tricky. Each material has its own perfect temperature and humidity level that would ensure longevity, yet not inflict damage.

    Extremes should be avoided, book-with-mold.jpgas these are the most likely to cause damage to library collections. The fluctuation from one extreme to another forces the materials of the book to expand and contract. Even though the materials used to make a book are different, many are hygroscopic, as they readily absorb and release moisture. And since there are different materials, they do this at different rates. These changes affect the very structure of the book, but extreme changes in temperature and humidity also encourage chemical and biological changes to occur. For example, if the area is hot and dry, the acids within the paper of the books accelerate to make the pages brittle. A brittle page is more likely to break rather than be turned or folded. However, if the area is humid, then mold is likely to form, which can stain pages, spread to the rest of the library, and pose a health concern.

    Where a book is placed is of great concern if the book’s future is valued. Keeping in mind the guidelines for temperature and humidity, book shelving should not be placed on outside walls. For those who have spent any time here in Ohio, it’s a well known fact the temperature gets very cold for a good deal of the year! Walls, and the shelving on them, that have a face to the outside are more susceptible to wild temperature fluctuations than those within the building. While the chilliness of the air may be beneficial to the books, the dampness contained within that air could be detrimental. Inside factors must be taken into account as well, as books placed near radiators or air conditioners also face those great fluctuations.
    Ideally, books should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. However, this is far from ideal if the book is to actually be used.

    Many conservators recommend that an acceptable environment for books that are in circulation would be a temperature of about 70°F, with a relative humidity roughly 50%. However, these numbers are guidelines, and while they are important, it is better that the items have a stable environment, rather than one with a perfect temperature or humidity. In order to monitor these conditions, Kelvin Smith employs the use of HOBOs. hobo pic.jpg

    HOBOs are a type of data logger produced by the company Onset, and shown here roughly actual size. While there are many types of data loggers to choose from, which can log information on anything from temperature to voltage to light intensity, the HOBOs Kelvin Smith uses record those two conditions that are very important to the longevity of books: temperature and humidity. The data loggers are strategically placed in collections at high risk of damage and are checked routinely. The HOBOs collect the temperature and humidity levels once every hour, and every month this information is downloaded. Through the software that came with Onset’s HOBO data logger, the information can then be graphed, saved and analyzed.

    thermohrgrograph.jpgThroughout other parts of the library, thermo-hygrographs keep a vigil on the environment as well. This information provides personnel a picture of what is going on temperature and humidity-wise within the library, and allows them to take action if necessary.

    For more on caring for books, and other objects, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has a lot of great information, as well as the
    Northeast Document Conservation Center.

    There are many companies that produce data loggers, software and other equipment to keep collections happy, but a few include: Onset, which was mentioned above, as well as University Products.

  • Preserving Your Travel Journal/ Octavofest, 2013 at Kelvin Smith Library   

    Following a short summary of this year’s Octavofest events at Kelvin Smith Library, this blog provides tips from a conservator on how to preserve your paper-based travel journal(s).

    Kelvin Smith Library supports and actively participates in Octavofest, a multi-institutional yearly celebration of book and paper arts unique to Cleveland, Ohio. Because this year’s theme is “Travel”, October, 2013 events at Kelvin Smith Library included:

    •“Around the World in 80 Books”, on display in the Hatch Reading Room through December 20th, is an exhibit of rare books, manuscripts, and archives about travel selected from the collections of Kelvin Smith Library. The exhibit covers a wide range of time periods and presents very different perspectives on travel. Items also represent different period styles of printing and binding, from ancient papyrus through ultra-contemporary art binding.
    An exhibit case displaying travel books in the Hatch Reading Room of Special Collections

    •Travel Journal Workshop, conducted by book and paper artist Aimee Lee; participants enjoyed creating two different versions of personal travel journals using fine art papers.
    DSC05452.jpg DSC05464.jpg
    Artist Aimee Lee demonstrating a paper folding technique

    •Presentation: Guest presenters Jared Bendis and Amy Kesegich shared their travel experiences and journaling practices, including electronic journaling.
    DSC05515.jpg DSC05487.jpg
    Jared Bendis shares his online travel blog. Amy Kesegich displays examples of her personal travel journals

    Preserving Your Travel Journal

    A travel journal, also called road journal or travelogue, is a record made by a voyager. Generally in diary form, a travel journal contains descriptions of the traveler's observations, feelings and experiences, and is normally written during the course of the journey. The intention of updating friends or family on the journey and recording thoughts and experiences to keep for future remembrances are some of the reasons these journals are kept.(content modified from Wikapedia). Travel journals often include photos, sketches/paintings created by the traveler of interesting people and places, as well as actual items from the trip such as menus, ticket stubs, matchbooks, and business cards that will remind the traveler of where they have been and what they experienced. Travel journals may be recorded in a paper-based journal or book as traditionally done, or more recently may be created online as blogs.

    In order to ensure the physical preservation of your analog travel journal, three things must be considered:the original materials from which your journal is constructed; the protection required to keep your journal from harm while traveling is in progress, and the future storage conditions of your journal following your return home.

    Original Materials:

    The initial selection of a journal that is made from acid-free archival materials will prove invaluable for the future preservation of the journal and will insure that if given a reasonable storage environment the journal will not deteriorate rapidly over time.
    • Paper and cover board: acid-free, lignin-free, buffered.
    • Able to expand to hold items without stressing the binding, and open flat
    • Pockets for loose objects made of acid-free paper, Bristol board or page protectors made from inert archival plastics such as Mylar (polyester), polypropylene or high-density polyethylene, or use archival plastic “corners”
    • Avoid use of anything made of Vinyl and PVC!!! These plastics off-gas chemicals that can prematurely degrade paper! If the plastic has a “smell” it is not acceptable!
    • Non-migrating stable adhesives such as acid free glue sticks, PVA. Only use archival tapes such as Filmoplast.
    • Writing Utensils: Acid-free pigment-based single-pigment inks, (such as Pigma Micron pens), waterproof, fade proof inks, pencils. Use a writing tool based on the type most suited to the paper in your journal. Different types of inks may bleed when used on cotton/rag art-type papers, or smear on coated papers.
    • All materials should pass the PAT (Photographic Activity Test.)

    Protection During Travel:

    • Protect your journal from the elements such as weather, sand, and dirt by purchasing a waterproof case to hold it while traveling or at least putting it in a heavy zip-lock bag. (NOT for long-term storage)
    • Do not leave a journal in a hot car or in direct sunlight for long periods of time.
    • Make sure your journal is protected in a waterproof enclosure when at the beach or near a pool.
    • Keep the journal away from pets or local dogs, and small children.
    • Do not “cram” an unprotected journal into an overly stuffed backpack or suitcase
    • Be sure to include your contact information in the journal in case it is lost.

    Long-term preservation of your journal:

    • Store in a cool, dry, stable interior environment, minimize exposure to light, especially sunlight.
    • Optimum storage conditions: 65-70F, 35-55% RH.
    • Maintain good air circulation.
    • Avoid storing paper-based items in a basement, garage, or attic, or near heat registers.
    • Do not store near windows or outside walls.
    • Store away from overhead water or waste pipes.
    • Avoid preventable exposure to airborn pollutants; do not smoke around your journal or store it in an area where food is cooked and prepared.
    • Store in a sturdy acid/lignin free buffered archival box.
    • Wash hands before handling; keep away from food and drink.
    • Clean and dust your bookcase or storage area regularly to discourage insects and pests that eat glues, molds and papers.

    For more questions or information about preservation, please contact Preservation (216)368-3465.

    For questions or information about the Hatch Travel exhibition, contact Scholarly Resources and Special Collections staff,216-368-0189.

    For more information about Octavofest events at Kelvin Smith Library, contact Gail Reese,216-368-5291.

  • Thomas Bird Mosher: The Pirate of Portland   

    "Nothing is worth printing that is not worth printing well, accurately, beautifully; yet with simplicity and at moderate cost, so as to be within the reach of everyone" was the belief expressed by the private publisher Thomas Bird Mosher of Portland, Maine. Active during the years of the private press era which boosted fine book making establishments such as the Brocade cover 400.jpg
    Kelmscott Press of William Morris, the Vale Press of Charles Ricketts and the Doves Press of Cobden-Sanderson, aimed to make quality literature available in beautifully designed volumes to the general public. His success as a quasi-private press publisher proved to commercial firms that it was possible to produce inexpensive, distinctively designed books that would sell. The authors and texts he published were the ones that he himself loved and wanted others to love as well. Through his work the American public was introduced to ancient and medieval texts and the literature of the Irish Revival, the English Aesthetes, the Victorians, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the French Symbolists. During the course of his career, between 1891 and 1923, he produced 700 book printings, including multiple editions. The unique titles among this huge output numbered about four hundred. In addition to books intended for sale to the general public he privately printed titles to give to friends and colleagues and produced books for clients who could pay for the production of their titles. Mosher's output also included 31 annual catalogs and a monthly literary magazine, The Bibelot, from 1895 to 1915.

    One of Mosher's most significant contributions as a publisher was that he printed the work of British writers who were little known in America. Some of his publishing ventures led to him being called a pirate under the international copyright laws of 1870 and 1891. If a foreign publisher did not issue an American edition of their book (had to be typeset, printed and bound in America) an American publisher could. Mosher was not breaking the law when he published works that had no American edition without getting permission from the author or the publisher. He did however break the customary extralegal right of prior publication. The controversy he stirred up turned out to be an effective marketing strategy that made his work much more widely known and contributed to increased sales. Some of the authors he printed did consider him a pirate while others like George Meredith were happy to see their works in print and read by Americans. Whatever may be said of Mosher's activities in this regard he made literature available to the public that would have remained unknown to the wider American public. The fact that both Robert Frost and Ezra Pound were disappointed that their work was never published by the Mosher Press indicates how highly his books were regarded in his day. After his death in 1923 his publishing business carried on under the direction of his long time assistant and manager, Flora Lamb. In 1941 it was sold to the Williams Book Store of Boston who published under the Mosher Press name until they went out of business in the mid-1970s.

    Brocade slipcase 400.jpg

    Although Mosher was not a trained designer his book design work was considered innovative (although it imitated the the Chiswick Press, the Bodley Head books, and British private presses of the period) and is now considered to be in the Aesthetic style. His success lay in his ability conceive of the book as a unified aesthetic object. He "borrowed" graphic elements from English books, including the work of the private presses and modified them to fit his artistic vision. Mosher's texts are not considered definitive editions but he is given credit for being concerned that the texts of the modern authors he was printing were accurate. Most of Mosher's books were printed as a part of fourteen different series with some titles appearing in more than one series. Publishing books as a part of a series was a common practice in the nineteenth century like William Pickering's Diamond Classics series initiated in 1822 as but one of several examples. The series statements do not always appear on the Mosher books themselves and are known from his catalogs and business papers.

    We highlight the book Saint Guido by Richard Jeffries which was issued with Queen Mary's Childgarden by Dr. John Brown in 1901. This title by Jeffries is number 25 in the Brocade series, so called because of the German made and imported brocade paper on the slipcases. This series consisted of 50 titles that were published between 1895 and 1905. The volumes were printed on Japan vellum and have Japan vellum covers. Japan vellum is a stiff, long-fibered paper that is extremely smooth. The Brocade series books with their decorative initials somewhat show the influence of the Chiswick Press, and of William Morris. The spine title is printed in black Jenson and the cover title is printed in a block of black Jenson capitals with a large red decorative initial. This copy of Saint Guido comes to the Kelvin Smith Library from the recent gift of Mosher Press imprints given by Thomas P. Slavin. This gift brings additional titles to Special Collections in the Ideal Series of Little Masterpieces, Lyric Garland Series, Miscellaneous Series, Old World Series, Quarto Series, Venetian Series, Vest Pocket Series and the series called the Reprints of Privately Printed Books. It also adds some of Mosher's vanity press titles and books printed by the Mosher firm after his death.

    For more on Thomas Bird Mosher see:
    Thomas Bird Mosher: Pirate Prince of Publishers by Philip R. Bishop. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press ; London: The British Library, 1998.

    Thomas Bird Mosher and the Art of the Book by Jean-François Vilain & Philip R. Bishop. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co., 1992.

    The Mosher Press Website

    For more on the Mosher Press imprints held by the Department Special Collections at the Kelvin Smith Library contact us at 216-368-3535.

  • Barclay Leathem and the National Theatre Conference   

    Barclay S. Leathem began teaching in the English Department at Western Reserve University (WRU) in 1921 while a law student. (He received his law degree in 1924.) He moved to the Speech Department in 1927 to teach the first theatre classes at WRU.

    03540D1 copy.jpg
    Barclay Leathem in the classroom, Western Reserve University, ca.1940

    In 1931 Leathem became head of the Dramatic Arts Department in the Graduate School when the graduate program in Drama and Theatre was established. Leathem, Frederic McConnell, and Arthur White (WRU faculty member) had proposed this new graduate program -- a joint program between WRU and the Cleveland Play House.

    With McConnell, Leathem was involved in the work of the National Theatre Conference (NTC). The NTC office was housed on the WRU campus beginning in 1937. Leathem served as Executive Secretary 1938-1959. In 1940 he traveled across the country visiting colleges and community theaters. An account of Leathem's trip is covered in the October 1940 issue of the NTC Quarterly Bulletin.

    "Travel Notes" October 1940 issue of the NTC Quarterly Bulletin

    Leathem also served as chairman of the investigation of royalties and play releases. The hope was to make better plays available for amateurs and to educate public school teachers to their use. He also oversaw several projects for the NTC, including the playwriting competition for GIs, the Tryout Studio where new graduates of university and theatre programs would perform before agents and others, the Bulletin quarterly publication, and the play lists for shows performed in army camps during World War II.

    Special thanks to Helen Conger, Archivist, Scholarly Resources & Special Collections, Kelvin Smith Library, for creating the content for this post.

    For more information about the Cleveland Play House Archives contact the Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections.

  • Frederic McConnell and the National Theatre Conference   

    The post-World War I era saw a number of significant changes in the national professional theatre dynamic, most notably the end of road company empires, the rise of motion pictures, and the collapse of the big stock companies. At the same time came the rise of the non-commercial theatre in cities big and small and the development of theatre studies at the university level. Together, these changes ended the traditional relationships between playwrights, agents, and American theatres by the mid-1920’s.

    Frederic McConnell directing a CPH production ca.1945. Photograph by Gordon Connor

    The organizers of the National Theatre Conference (NTC) stepped into this changing scene in hopes of protecting and developing the interests of non-commercial theatres. Conceived among the faculty and graduates of nascent university theatre programs and strengthened by the rising power of the little theatre movement, the NTC began working as a small group of volunteers who shared their knowledge and experience with colleagues who had traditionally looked to New York for every cue. Their core concept of developing professionalism on a peer-to-peer basis revolutionized the world of not for profit theatre and ultimately helped insured the success of the movement.

    As a graduate of Carnegie Tech, one of the earliest theatre education programs in the country, and with a national reputation based on his successful administration of the Cleveland Play House, Frederic McConnell represented the new breed of theatre professionals driving the NTC. He took early leadership roles in the group and from his address to the first conference attendees in 1925 though his retirement from the Play House in 1958, McConnell helped steer the NTC toward achieving it’s goals.

    NTC regions map ca.1933. McConnell territory shaded in blue.

    Organized on a regional plan, the NTC divided the country into several sections, each represented by a regional director. Without pay, these individuals agreed to provided a consistent level of support, advice and professional development to small theatres in such complex areas as negotiations for production rights and royalties and securing plays for production. Promoting development of new plays and identifying new sources of playwriting talent came under the regional directors prevue as well. The NTC filled an urgent need for professional literature in the field with an aggressive publishing program and regional directors worked as liaisons in commissioning or reprinting works by trusted authors on all phases of theatre work and supporting the development of theatre libraries. Lastly, the NTC, through the efforts of its regional directors, maintained and made available employment registers, business directories of reliable resources for theatre equipment and standards for theatre architecture.

    Through McConnell’s devotion to the NTC, the Cleveland Play House became the regional center for the exchange of knowledge, experience and resources in non-commercial theatres as well as the growing number of theatre programs at the university level. Early funding for the NTC came from foundation grants, which were administered from rent-free offices in New York; resources that dwindled as the depression deepened throughout the 1930’s. Through the generosity of Western Reserve University [a CWRU predecessor institution], the NTC took up residence on campus at no cost and with considerable support from faculty member Barclay Leathem who worked in tandem with McConnell for many years to put the finances, products and services of the NTC to good use in the theatre community.

    National Theatre Conference logo circa.1933

    For more information about the Cleveland Play House Archives contact the Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections.

  • Natural Science Highlights: Perry's Conchology   

    Perry title Final.jpg

    The rare book holdings include one of the most beautiful color seashell books ever published, Conchology, or, The natural history of shells, by George Perry, which appeared in 1811. In the opening paragraph of his Introduction he states: "The study of Shells or testaceous animals, is a branch of natural history which, although not greatly useful to the mechanical arts, or the human economy, is nevertheless, by the beauty of the subjects it comprises, most admirably adapted to recreate the senses, to improve the taste or invention of the Artist, and, finally and insensibly, to lead to the contemplation of the great excellence and wisdom of the Divinity in their formation." The introduction which also explains the arrangement of the work into two sections, univalves and bivalves, is followed by sixty-one exquisite, hand colored aquatint plates. The plates are signed as being published by William Miller, a prominent Scottish line-engraver who was best known in his day for his reproductions of the works of J.M.W. Turner. In the introduction credit for the original drawings and engravings is given to a Mr. John Clarke. It is very likely that the work was done by George Perry, who was a skilled artist, and others who were less skilled than he was. Antiquarian booksellers relate that Perry's Conchology is the only seashell book with aquatint illustrations but another has been identified. The work was printed at London by William Bulmer, one of the best printers of the time, who strove to improve the standards of English typography.

    Although Perry was a distinguished English naturalist, the work was criticized during his lifetime for its use of vibrant pastel colors and shell forms that were not always true to life. His choice of nomenclature was also criticized but many of the generic and specific names he used are now accepted and used today.

    Plate 25 Perry Final.jpg

    Perry's text was based on the work of Linnaeus and the Frenchmen Jean Guillaume Bruguière, a zoologist whose main interest was snails and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote a major work on the classification of invertebrates. The plates illustrate specimens from Australia, New Zealand, the South Seas, Pacific Ocean and Tahiti. Many of the shells that appear in the illustrations formed part of the collections of private individuals. It is thought that some of the shells were from a collection that belonged to Elizabeth Bligh, whose husband was William Bligh, captain of the Bounty when its crew carried out its famous mutiny in 1789.

    This monumental work comes to the rare book collection from the library of Dr. Jared P. Kirtland (1793-1877). Kirtland was a physician and naturalist who was born in Connecticut and moved to Ohio in 1823. He founded the first scientific organization in Cleveland, the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences, which was formally established in 1845. This Academy was the forerunner of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Kirtland's contributions also include his establishment of the Cleveland Medical College which became the Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

    For more on the Conchology see
    George Perry's molluscan taxa and notes on the editions of his Conchology of 1811 by Richard E. Petit

    For more information about the copy held by the Department of Special Collections at the Kelvin Smith Library contact us at 216-368-0189.

    Plate 25: Conus

  • The Women's Committee of the Cleveland Play House   

    The Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Play House was founded to further the interests of the Play House, initially serving as liaison between the theatre and the public. The first Women’s Committee meeting was held in the Brooks Theatre in May 1932 at the request of the Board of Trustees. At that time several committees were formed to assist Play House personnel in the areas of subscription sales, promotional and social events.

    ballet.jpg Admission ticket to Women's Committee fundraising event.

    These early assignments quickly expanded to encompass twenty-one committees devoted to such tasks as event coordination, ushering, children’s theatre efforts, marketing campaigns and major fundraising drives which essentially relieved the Play House of the expense of administrative staff in the hard times of the 1930’s. Their stated goal was “To assist in every way possible in any way help was needed” which resulted in the cultivation of a dedicated and multi-talented volunteer work force supporting every operation of the theatre for eighty years.

    Fundraising was an important function of the Women’s Committee and their aim was to have fun doing it. Planning and executing countless luncheons, balls, benefit performances, fashion shows, comedy revues, gift shops, tours and commemorative publications over the lifespan of the committee raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid the theatre and spread good will throughout the community. Over time, the group laid the foundation for a Men’s Committee to broaden the volunteer base among Play House members. Perhaps best known for establishing and managing the Play House Club in the 1960’s, the Men’s Committee also engaged in a wide array of projects designed to support the Play House.

    mens.2.jpg Men's Committee social event invitation.

    In October 2012, membership of the Women’s Committee closed the first chapter of their history with the Play House by organizing one last luncheon, the proceeds of which were combined with the balance of their treasury to create the Women’s Committee of The Cleveland Play House Endowment Fund.

    Contact Special Collections for details about our current exhibit of Cleveland Play House Archives material.

  • Restoration of Charles W. Wason's "Letters of a Trip Around the World"   

    Working in a Preservation Department of a university library is a challenging and rewarding job. One of the most enjoyable activities involved with this profession is the conservation of rare and historic bindings. I recently had the opportunity to restore the damaged binding for a unique book with ties to the Cleveland area-Charles W. Wason's "Letters of a Trip Around the World".

    Charles Wason, 1854-1918, was born and raised in Cleveland. He moved to New York state to attend Cornell University and returned to Cleveland following his graduation. He eventually became President/director of several electric, telephone and railroad companies. He traveled with his wife around the world and as a result of his travels developed an avid interest in China. With the assistance of Arthur W. Clark, a rare book dealer in Cleveland at the time, he actively collected a vast number of books and journal articles about China which he donated upon his death in 1918 to Cornell University Library, establishing the Cornell East Asia Collection.

    Although he donated his incredible collection (9,500 books, 1,200 pamphlets, 550 manuscripts) to Cornell, the Special Collections of Kelvin Smith Library is fortunate to hold a book of his personal letters to his two daughters, hand-written during his trip around the world in 1902-03. These original letters and printed souvenirs were beautifully bound by the Rowfant Club of Cleveland. The book was bound in full green goatskin leather with decorative endsheets and gold tooling. Over the years, the book's leather deteriorated and the covers became detached. A Cleveland couple with an interest in this book funded its repairs through the Adopt-A-Book program of Kelvin Smith Library.

    In order to restore the binding, new leather similar to the original was pared down (thinned with a knife) to create hinges for attaching both the front and back covers.

    pared leather.jpg
    The spine was gently lifted with a special knife at both sides, just barely enough to insert the new leather hinges, which were also attached just beneath the original leather of the front and back covers. The leather hinges were glued with wheat paste, which is made in the department and is easily reversible. Great care was taken not to damage the already fragile original leather when working on the book.

    The book's brittle leather spine was very scuffed, flaking and damaged; it was dyed to exactly match the original leather and treated with a leather consolidator. Finally, a custom clam-shell box was created to protect and house the book. The box was lined with Microchamber paper that will help preserve the binding by absorbing the harmful acids inherently present in the leather and paper.

    This book can now be safely handled and used by visitors to Special Collections. It was gratifying to work on this wonderful book, and the library is very grateful to the couple who provided the funding to achieve the restoration.

    The biography of Charles W. Wason was based on information provided by the Cornell University site-"Historical Journey of the Wason Collection on East Asia"

    Information about the restored book "Letters of a Trip around the World" was provided by the Adopt-A-Book donors.

    Wason before1.jpeg Book before restoration

    Book front cover after2.jpg Book after restoration

    Wason before2.jpeg Inside of book before treatment showing detached boards

    Wason after open.jpeg Inside of book after treatment

    Wason before3.jpeg Spine before treatment showing deteriorated leather

    Wason spine after.jpeg Spine after treatment

    Wason box4.jpg Custom-made protective box

    Wason box open with book.jpg Open custom-made box with book inside

  • The House of Elsevier   

    Republica Venetorum 350 height.jpg

    Our postings on the great publishers and printers continues with the house of Elsevier. The Elseviers were a Dutch family of printers, publishers and booksellers who flourished in Holland for over one hundred years from about 1585 until 1712. They were one of many fine printing establishments that conducted business in more than one city. During the period they were in operation Holland was a maritime world power and enjoyed what has come to be known as the Dutch Golden Age. Literature, science and the arts flourished with painters of the era including Rembrandt and Vermeer. It was also the golden age of the Dutch book trade. Elsevier books were attractive and well made, inexpensive and sold all over Europe. The founding member of the establishment was Louis Elsevier (1546-1617) who was most likely born at Louvain in Belgium. He left there around 1565 and went to Antwerp where he worked a short time for Christopher Plantin. After working for Plantin he moved from place to place until he settled in Leiden in 1580. At that time Leiden was the most important city in Holland next to Amsterdam. After initial failures at bookbinding and printing he made his first attempt at publishing in 1582 with I. Drusii Ebraicarum Quaestionum. He was given space at the University of Leiden in 1587 and published for himself and for the school.

    During the last quarter of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century the University of Leiden grew to become one of the finest schools in Europe. It attracted an international faculty with some of the foremost scholars of the day including Joseph Juste Scaliger, Claude Saumaise and Daniel Heinsius. Almost half of the student body came from foreign countries including Norway, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Turkey and Persia. The Elseviers maintained a relationship with the University for most of the seventeenth century and it is very likely the students took their books back home with them.

    In addition to the Leiden office, subsidiary branches were set up during Louis's lifetime at The Hague and Utrecht. The shop at The Hague was in operation from 1590 until 1665 and was located in the Great Hall. The shop at Utrecht was not as important as the one at The Hague and less is known about the business conducted there. It is known that the shop was established in 1600 by Joost, the fourth son of Louis, at the sign of the Red Goose.

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    When Lewis died in 1617 his business at Leiden was taken over by his hiers. The Leiden establishment achieved its greatest prominence under the direction of Bonaventure (1583-1652)and Abraham Elsevier (1592-1652). Abraham was the son of Matthias (d. 1640) who was one of the founding Louis's sons. Bonaventure was Matthias's brother. Abraham had a son Isaac (1596-1651) who established his own printing business and produced work for his father, uncle and other booksellers. In 1629 Abraham and Bonaventure began a series of duodecimo books, small pocket size editions, of the Latin classics that made the Elsevier name famous. The volumes produced in this series didn't come to an end until 1665. They produced another series of small books known as "The Republics" between 1626 and 1649 which gained immediate popularity. Each volume in the series was devoted to the history, economy, geography and other facts about a country in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Near East. These books may be considered the precursors of modern day travel guides. Some texts were reprints of older titles like Contareni's book on Venice and others included only excerpts from older works. There were also newly commissioned titles issued in the Republics series.

    Around 1655, after management of the Leiden shop passed out of the hands of Bonaventure and Abraham, the main Elsevier establishment became the one based at Amsterdam. It was under the direction of Louis (1604-1670), the son of the founder of the family business, and his cousin Daniël (1626-1680). Since they were not affiliated with a university it was not as necessary for them to print books about theology and the classics. Their publications included the works of Erasmus, Bacon, Molière and Descartes among others. When Daniël died in 1680 he was one of Europe's famous publishers and with his death the Amsterdam house came to an end. The era of the Elsevier publishing dynasty as a whole came to a rather undistinguished close at Leiden with the death of Abraham in 1712. Abraham (1653-1712) was the great-great grandson of the founding father Louis. Abraham did not apply himself to the responsibility of maintaining the business that was still located on the premises of the University of Leiden. In fact, the senate of the University complained in 1711 about the chickens and dogs kept around the shop that were making too much of a mess and too much noise.

    The subjects most published by all the Elseviers were religion and theology followed by law, politics, the classics, French plays and belles lettres. They were also known for their books published in non-Roman alphabets. The years the Elseviers were in business coincided with a period of intense study of Semitic languages in the Netherlands. They sometimes published under a fictitious imprint or anonymously if the books were about religious or political subjects that could have been detrimental to their business reputation. As a whole the family members did not have the best educations and were not scholars. The quality of their texts was dependent upon the caliber of their proof-readers and by the time of the Elseviers the era of the scholar proof-reader had for the most part ended. However, in the main, their texts were well edited and reliable and intended for the scholarly and educated classes. Although they are best known for their small format books, duodecimos like the Republics and classics series, the Elseviers also published larger books, octavos and folios. No matter how one chooses to evaluate their small books the Elseviers deserve credit for providing good books at affordable prices. The worth of these may be judged from the tendency of many other contemporary printers and publishers to imitate or forge their productions. Some of the more learned members of the day were not greatly enthusiastic about the small Elsevier books but others valued them highly. Indeed, one Sir Thomas Browne who died in 1682 had stipulated in his will that "on my coffin when in the grave I desire may be deposited in its leather case or coffin my Elzevir's Horace … worn out with and by me."

    The Elsevier name came into use again in 1880 when Jacobus Robbers named his publishing company "Elsevier." He even used the printer's device that Isaac, the printer at Leiden, had used. An old man stands underneath an elm tree which is considered the tree of knowledge. The motto, "non solus," means "not alone." The Elsevier name is still with us today as a part of the Reed-Elsevier conglomerate which is one of the major publishers of healthcare and scientific literature.

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    Davies, David William, The World of the Elseviers, 1580-1712. The Hague: Nijoff, 1954.

    Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall, Encylopedia of the Book.. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press; London: British Library, 1996

    Hartz, Sem, The Elseviers and their contemporaries: an illustrated commentary. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1955.

    Lyons, Martyn, Books: a Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011.

    Steinberg, Sigfrid Henry, Five Hundred Years of Printing. London: British Library; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1996.

    Traister, Daniel, "The Elsevier Republics" in The Elsevier Republics: Guide to the Microfiche Edition Bethesda, MD: Congressional Information Services,Inc., 1988.

    Image 1 above: Engraved title page from Casparis Contareni's De republica Venetorum libri quinque published at Leiden in 1628. One of the titles from The Republics series.

    Image 2 above: Engraved title page from volume one of the works of Cicero published at Leiden in 1642. One of the titles from the Latin classics series.

    Image 3 above: Printer's device used by the Elseviers from the title page of Dan. Heinsii De tragoediae constitvtione liber. In qvo inter caetera tota de hac Aristotelis sententia dilucide explicatur. Editio auctior multo. Cui & Aristotelis De poëtica libellus, cum ejusdem notis & interpretatione, accedit. Lvgd. Batav., ex officinâ Elsevirianâ, 1643.

    For more information contact the Department of Special Collections at the Kelvin Smith Library at 216-368-0189

  • Samples from The Kelvin Smith Library Bookplate Collection   

    Special Collections is the repository of a collection of over 5,000 bookplates from a handful of collectors who pursued that fascinating hobby. Begun with a gift in memory of their daughter Lucia to Western Reserve University by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Lemperly in 1917 the collection continued to grow through the 1980’s with gifts from Clara Prentis Sherwin, Alice S. Tyler and Elizabeth M. Richards.

    As we have recently started to re-examine this collection it has become clear that an extension of the gifts bestowed by our small group of collectors has been uncovering tiny examples of work by local artists which we might not otherwise have come to know.

    Seen here are five bookplates created by Cleveland artist Kalman Kubinyi for prominent Clevelanders, probably in the 1930’s. Kubinyi wove representative elements of his clients’ lives into miniature designs which they used to define their personal libraries.

  • The Printer's Art and the Playbill   

    Though the Cleveland Play House struggled early on to find it’s financial and managerial footing, there was never a lack of artistic talent available to produce first class promotional material for a wide variety of productions each season. By 1922, the number of hand-drawn programs and playbills had been augmented by professionally typeset works by local printers. The Play House was the recipient of two beautiful works of art by master printer Horace Carr in the playbills he created for The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus (March 31st to April 9th, 1922) and The Tragicall History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (January 12th to 29th, 1923)


    Carr, Cleveland’s most celebrated printer, enjoyed an international reputation as an innovative and meticulous creator of typeset works. He was an active participant in the Cleveland art scene from the establishment of his Cleveland printing business in 1893 to his death in 1941. Carr was a student of the earliest printers and a devotee of the practices developed in the hand press period as well as those refined in the works of William Morris. Of note in the playbills featured here is Carr’s signature use of the Caslon typeface and pleasing arrangement of text and ornamentation to convey the spirit of the Elizabethan stage of Marlowe and Shakespeare.


    For more information about the Cleveland Play House Archive please contact Special Collections or visit the Cleveland Play House web site.

  • Summer Interns   

    Our processing efforts received a boost this summer through the work of three students, Mike Muth, Michael Wilson, and Char'ta Cleggett.

    Michael and Char'ta were part of University Circle, Inc's Future Connections program, a summer internship program for rising high school seniors. Mike joined us as an intern in Kent State University School of Library and Information Science's Circle Undergraduate Internship Program.

    Together, our students contributed over 160 hours, during which they:
    • Physically processed over 20 linear feet of photographs of the Cleveland Play House's 860 productions from the 1917 through 1985 seasons.
    • Created item-level descriptions of nearly 950 photographs.
    • Digitized over 155 photographs.

    Besides this very high level of productivity, Mike, Michael, and Char'ta asked stimulating questions and made helpful suggestions for improving our processing procedures.

  • Small scale disaster recovery, or: the KSL Disaster Plan Works Again!   

    The Preservation Department of Kelvin Smith Library’s Scholarly Research and Special Collections team received the phone call on Wednesday, June 13th, a perfectly normal day. Workmen on the roof were performing maintenance on an air-conditioning unit when suddenly a water pipe burst, sending water cascading through the ceiling and onto a portion of the first 7 compact-shelf ranges of the library’s circulating collection on the third floor. The water also soaked a nearby women’s rest room and one of the library’s two elevators, but our concern in Preservation in such a situation was to quickly assess and recover the affected books. Time is extremely critical in a wet book/paper situation as mold can develop after only 24 hours.

    Luckily for us we have an excellent up-to-date Disaster Plan in place that covers exactly this type of situation, including step by step instructions so there is no panic and everyone knows exactly how to proceed.

    Assuring the safety of people always comes first in any disaster situation!
    • Before entering the affected area, it was determined by Plant Services staff that there was not any shock hazard from wet electrical components.
    • Before any staff entered the area, Plant Services removed wet ceiling tiles that were crumbling and falling so that no one could suffer injury from the falling debris, which can be quite heavy especially when wet.
    • The water was not originating from a waste pipe, but was “grey water”, regular water that has passed through a ceiling and a roof, so it is still not really clean. Staff was reminded repeatedly to wash their hands after they were done handling the wet materials.
    • Yellow caution tape was applied to the affected areas on both sides of the stacks and the movable shelving in that area was locked, preventing patron access.

    After human safety issues were adequately addressed, the book salvage began in earnest! Plastic sheeting (kept on site in KSL and also from our offsite disaster supply cache) was brought from its designated locations and was draped over the nearby still-dry shelving areas to prevent them from becoming wet, as well as over the wet shelving units after the books were removed.


    Over 1,000 books were removed from the shelves and placed on carts. They were then brought to a staging area on the second floor where student workers and volunteer staff were mobilized to sort the books according to degrees of wetness; the soaked books were packed in plastic milk crates (also brought from our disaster supply cache) and taken to a local freeze dry facility (already identified in our Disaster Plan)


    The damp books were surface-wiped/dried with rags and then stood up and fanned-out on 13 tables with fans on each end. Because so many people volunteered, this took only 2-3 hours.

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    Meanwhile, Library Administration staff contacted the University’s insurance and one special account was set up to charge all expenses related to the incident. The leak was repaired by Plant Services staff and the shelving area cleaned up. Fans were left running on each side of the affected stacks to dry them out, keep the air moving and to reduce humidity in the area. Administration dealt with the elevator and the rest room damage.

    The following day, staff and students carefully checked each book and if thoroughly dry, placed them on book carts. Almost all of the damp books were dry after 18 hours. Preservation staff checked random books with a moisture meter to confirm that they were dry and had acceptable moisture content for books and paper. (The moisture meter was a joint disaster supply purchase of the Kelvin Smith Library and the MSASS Harris Library.) The few books that were still damp were consolidated and continued to be dried on one table. Books that were dry but were water-stained, needed repairs or had cockled paper needing to be flattened were identified and placed on another cart to go to Preservation for treatment. The dry undamaged books were taken to the sorting room to be re-shelved. The tables used to dry the books were cleaned and disinfected as were the formerly wet shelves in the stacks. Fans and empty book carts were returned to their original locations. Preservation staff took temperature and humidity readings in the wet stack area and set up a recording hygrothermograph (an instrument that records and measures temperature and relative humidity over a week’s time) to make sure the humidity does not get too high. If it does become too high, dehumidifiers are available with the disaster supplies located in a different building.

    The Disaster Plan works very well. Because we had the necessary recovery supplies stored nearby, and had clear direction, there were no books lost- and over 1000 books were dried returned to circulation within a 24 hour period. The much appreciated staff and student help was a very critical factor in the quick recovery time. Everyone really pulled together in the face of an emergency for the common good. As far as disasters go, it doesn’t get much better than this!

    For more information on library disaster recovery or emergency planning, please see our website or contact the Preservation Department,

(from the KSL Special Collections Blog)

Kelvin Smith Library | 11055 Euclid Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44106-7151 | 216-368-3506