Reconstructing the Pope Library, Part 2: The Books

In the first part of Reconstructing the Pope Library, I discussed Abby Pope’s house in Brooklyn, which was demolished in 1950. In this post, I will examine the sources of information for her books and where they went.

The Books

“A list of the notable books [of the Pope library] would be, practically, a catalogue of the library.”The Bookman, August 1895, p. 70.

Unfortunately, no complete catalogue of the Abby Pope library has survived. However, a number of the titles she owned were listed in various descriptions of her library, both during her lifetime and following her untimely death at the age of 36. Two of the most detailed accounts are from Mary Avery’s “The Library of a Brooklyn Bibliophile,” Pratt Institute Monthly (1894) and Daniel Tredwell’s Monograph on Privately Illustrated Books (rev. ed., 1892).

Abby’s husband Norton Q. Pope sold her library to Dodd, Mead in 1895, a year after her death. Dodd, Mead announced the collection for sale beginning on October 22nd, 1895, and the prospectus stated that no catalogue would be issued. However, beginning in March 1896, Dodd, Mead began to issue catalogues of “selections from the unsold portion of the Pope library, with additions from other sources.” Catalogues no. 40-43 consisted of:

  • Early English literature
  • 19th century English literature
  • Americana
  • American broadsides, maps, autographs, and manuscripts

The Dodd, Mead catalogues do contain items from other sources, so each entry must be confirmed before it can be added to the official list of Abby Pope’s books, although many are likely from her library. 

The introduction to Catalogue 40 stated that the first four would be followed by catalogues on “Bibliography and Publications of Societies, First Editions of American Authors, Early Printed Books, and Books in Foreign Languages, Fine Art and Illustrated Books, etc., etc.” This planned series of catalogues was cut short by the collector Robert Hoe’s purchase of the remaining Pope collection in 1896. As a result, some of Abby Pope’s most prominent books never appeared in the Dodd, Mead catalogues, although they are mentioned in other sources. 

By that time, the collection had been available for several months and some of the rarities had already been sold, but many treasures remained for Hoe. A number of the Pope books appeared again in the Hoe sales of 1911-1912, although Abby’s name was mostly mentioned in connection with a single book, the Caxton Morte d’Arthur. From there, her books were scattered to a variety of places, their connection to her library usually forgotten.

By cross-referencing the Avery and Tredwell accounts, the Dodd, Mead catalogues, the Hoe sale catalogues, and other sources, I am attempting to reconstruct a list of the high points from Abby Pope’s collection. This may eventually amount to perhaps 300 titles from a collection that likely totaled over 2,700 items. In many cases, the most I can do is take a brief mention from a newspaper article or book sale catalogue and match it to a complete citation in the English Short Title Catalogue or other standard source. For the more distinctive items, such as incunabula, manuscripts, signed bindings, and extra-illustrated works, I can sometimes go on to identify where she purchased it and trace the provenance through subsequent sales to its final location. So far I have citations for 273 titles, with known locations for perhaps 85.

Part of my working spreadsheet for the Pope library reconstruction.

Price Code

One of the frustrating things about tracking Abby Pope’s books is that she didn’t use a bookplate or write her name in books, so there’s very little tangible evidence of her ownership in the books themselves.

While I was combing through Google Books search results, I came across an interesting entry in a Dodd & Livingston sale catalogue from 1911 for Abby Pope’s copy of Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages (1613). The description said: “According to Mrs. Pope’s cipher in the back the book cost, probably about 1890, $850 and the binding by Lortic $145 more, or $995 for the volume.”

The cipher seemed noteworthy, and it turned out I had actually seen examples of these coded inscriptions in some of her books at the Huntington Library. I was still in the very early information-gathering stages then, so I’d noted them down but hadn’t really pursued that line of inquiry further until I saw this entry.

Fortunately, the catalogue description, particularly the orange morocco binding by Lortic, gave me enough information to trace the book to the Library of Congress. The book has been digitized, and the back flyleaf still contains Abby Pope’s code right where they said it was in 1911. It was thrilling to go from finding this catalogue description all the way to viewing the book online and seeing her original inscription in her own hand.

Abby Pope's price cipher in the back of Champlain's Voyages. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Abby Pope’s price code in the back of Champlain’s Voyages. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Price-codes, as I learned, are ten-letter words or phrases used by book dealers and sometimes collectors to substitute for numbers when recording the price of a book. For further reading on the history of price-codes, see Ian Jackson’s book on the Prices-Codes of the Book-Trade (2nd edition, 2017). Robert Dodd and Luther S. Livingston, formerly of Dodd, Mead, were the same men who had handled the sale of Abby Pope’s library in 1896, so they would have been familiar with her books and clearly knew the key to her price-code.

With Dodd & Livingston’s solution provided, I was able to fill in six of the letter-number substitutions that would make up a full price-code. Conveniently, this particular example of her code is an equation instead of a single price, so the solution can be checked simply by making sure the math adds up.

I stared at the six letters for a while and finally they jogged my memory of a brief sentence from Charles Ryskamp’s article, “Abbie Pope: Portrait of a Bibliophile” (1984). He had said, “Her price code it would seem was ‘Hope and try.'” He went on to say “Determination was central to her character,” so when I first read that passage I thought he was just speaking metaphorically about her personal motto for buying books. Now, having learned more about the use of price-codes, I realized that he had meant the statement literally.

And there is the complete code, “Hope and Try.” It turned out that I had rediscovered something that others had already known. Paul Needham decoded Abby Pope’s price-code while working with the Caxton Morte d’Arthur at the Morgan Library in the 1970s, the source of Charles Ryskamp’s information. Her inscription in that volume is noted in the Morgan Library catalog: H.y.a.y.y. ++.

It was still satisfying to work it out for myself, while tracing another book from Abby Pope’s collection along the way. Now that I know what to look for, I have been able to find a number of other examples of her price-code in books. They do not appear in every book that she owned, but I’m sure there are more out there. If you do come across one, please let me know.

Reconstructing the Pope Library

This reconstruction of Abby Pope’s library captures a moment in time. Many of her books came from the sales of other great libraries, including those of John Payne Collier, George Brinley, Rush C. Hawkins, and Samuel L. M. Barlow. The books remained together on the shelves of her library for perhaps ten years before being dispersed through Dodd, Mead and the Robert Hoe sales. Some books went directly from the Hoe sales to a permanent home in an institution such as the Huntington Library or the Morgan Library, while others passed through multiple owners and surfaced again in subsequent sales.

With Abby Pope’s library demolished and her books scattered around the country, it is difficult even to know the true extent of her collection. By tracing these few known titles and their current locations, we can get a glimpse of what must have been a truly remarkable collection, built by an extraordinary woman. Abby Pope was not born into the upper classes, but managed to enter the exclusive world of high-end book collecting at a time when it was not particularly welcoming to women. Had she lived longer, with her early start in book collecting, she could have given Morgan, Huntington, Folger and the rest a run for their money during the Golden Age of American book collecting. Just imagine what she might have achieved with a few more decades to build her library.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to all who have generously helped me so far with this research project, including: Meghan Constantinou, Grolier Club Library; the staff at the Huntington Library; Sheelagh Bevan, the Morgan Library; Teri Osborn, the William Reese Company; Paul Needham, Princeton University Library; and Elizabeth Fuller, the Rosenbach Library.

Reconstructing the Pope Library, Part 1: The House

“It will be always sufficient for the value of a book among book lovers to say that it came from the library of Mrs. Norton Quincy Pope.” New York Times, 27 October , 1895.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the Brooklyn bibliophile Abby Ellen Pope, a remarkable 19th century book collector. While her house in Brooklyn no longer exists and her books have been widely dispersed, I have made some progress towards a reconstruction of that space and the collection it once housed.

The House

The Pope residence stood on the northwest corner of Park Place and Vanderbilt Avenue, in the rapidly-developing neighborhood of Prospect Heights. Built ca. 1862 for George M. Woodward, head of the Woodward Steam Pump Manufacturing Company, the brick house and stable occupied a spacious corner lot of 100 by 167 feet.  


George Woodward’s house, Brooklyn. 1870. From The New York Public Library.

Abby’s father, John Hanscom, purchased the house at 241 Park Place in 1885 when the Hanscoms and Norton Q. Pope moved from Chicago to Brooklyn. In the same year, The Sanitary Engineer reported that J. Hanscom was building a one-story and basement brick addition to the house. The architect for this project was M.J. Morrill and the builders were P. Carlin & Sons and J.S. McRea. This addition would house Abby’s library, for which she had already acquired some of her greatest treasures, such as the Caxton Morte d’Arthur and the Shakespeare First Folio.


Left: Robinson’s Atlas of the City of Brooklyn (1886), shows the wing added by John Hanscom to the west side of the house in 1885. Right: a later view of the house and stable, Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York (1903). Follow the links to see full-size maps and to zoom in or out. From The New York Public Library.

I could not find any photographs of the house during the time that Abby Pope lived there. Images after that period were all taken from the front of the house or the street corner, obscuring the western side with its one-story library addition.

After Abby’s untimely death in 1894, the house was sold in 1895 to Peter W. Rouss, a son of the Broadway dry goods merchant, Charles Broadway Rouss. Rouss added a third story and a large brownstone porch, which can be seen in this 1903 photograph from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Residence of Peter W. Rouss, Park Place and Vanderbilt, Recently Remodeled. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 18 April 1903.

When Peter Rouss moved out of the house in 1909, it was leased to William Pitt Rivers and became the Chateau du Parc, a space for social functions. Following the Chateau du Parc, the house was repurposed several times to serve as a church, the Brooklyn Saengerbund Clubhouse, and finally the Park Vanderbilt Restaurant in the 1940s. In 1950, it was torn down by the builders Sam Minskoff & Sons to make way for a supermarket (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 18 January 1950).

The Library

The Pope library itself was first described in the local newspaper in 1887, on the occasion of Abby’s marriage to Norton Q. Pope. Immediately following their wedding, guests were invited into the “art room and library” to view the “many works of art and valuable books which are accorded places in the room.” According to the article, the room had been furnished by John Hanscom at a cost of $350,000, including “the original of the ‘Merry Tales of King Arthur,’ which cost Mr. Hanscom $15,000; the oldest edition of Shakspeare in this country, which costs $10,000, and the original manuscript of the majority of Robert Burns’ poems.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 June 1887). This is the only time that John Hanscom, not a book collector himself, was credited with the library.

After marriage, Abby and her husband continued to reside at 241 Park Place, and the books mentioned in the article remained part of her library. The Popes regularly entertained and hosted performances in their home, allowing many visitors the opportunity to tour the house and view the treasures of her library. Publications such as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Pratt Institute Monthly and even the New York Times took an interest in the Pope library, said to be “one of the choicest jewels in Brooklyn.” Several visitors to her library described the space in detail:

Of the really rare and choice collections of books in our country there is probably none to compare in certain directions with that of Mr. and Mrs. Norton I. Pope of this city. Their library occupies a wing of their elegant residence on Prospect heights, which is 65 feet long and 25 wide, lighted by a dome and end windows of richly stained glass. It is a beautiful and fitting resting place for the unique collections which fill it to overflowing—rare books, manuscripts, autographs and objects of art. The bookcases which line the walls are of mahogany, and so fashioned that the title of every volume on the crimson morocco covered shelves can be seen. Opposite the entrance to the room there is a huge carved wood mantel shelf, surmounted by a sixteenth century ormolu clock of turquoise, with candelabra to match. Above the book cases are examples of paintings by European and American artists of repute; a Schreyer, “The Council of War,” “Eventide,” by Bastien Lepage; “Rest After Drill,” by E. Detaine; “Roaming,” by Rosa Bonheur; a flower piece by Robie, and paintings by Eastman Johnson, Alfred Bellows, Diaz and others. Cabinets, here and there, are filled with an embarrassment of riches in cameos, ivory earrings and curios; and pedestals are surmounted by bronzes and marbles. Inviting easy chairs, tapestry covered lounges and carved wood tables on which is a litter of papers and books, occupy the remaining spaces of this charming apartment, the open fire adding to its cheerfulness and beauty. The treasures here accumulated have been gathered from the famous libraries disposed of in various parts of Europe at private sales and from individuals who barter in such commerce in our own country. (“Many Rare Old Books,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 April 1892.)

The Popes liked everything to be of the best quality, and they spent lavishly to achieve their goals. The library was illuminated by electric lights in the ceiling, using a system of patented Frink picture reflectors specially adapted to lighting art galleries. Their kitchen, remodeled in 1889, was admired as “probably the most perfect kitchen in this country,” filled with all the latest improvements in culinary design (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 October 1893).

Norton Q. Pope was never a particularly discriminating collector, being more interested in art as a status symbol. When he sold his art collection in 1896, a reviewer said:

“Mr. Pope’s paintings, as a whole, do not represent any especial idea in the taste of collecting; they are of many schools and in many keys. It is not possible to judge from them just what was the sentiment that directed their acquisition. Taken together as a collection they are not restful in effect.” (“The Pope Paintings,” The Sun, 19 January 1896). 

In contrast, it was said of Abby Pope that she “was a woman of rare literary taste and critical acumen, combined with a discriminating judgment and keen artistic appreciation. She collected books with enthusiasm, and with sound sense.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 October 1895). One hopes that Abby prevailed over her husband in the matter of decorating the rest of the library, as she certainly did with the selection of books to fill it.

While we cannot see the library room as it was during Abby’s time, I was able to find two interior photographs showing the space in 1910-1911, when it was used to host public functions and dances. Two advertisements for the Chateau du Parc show a long, ornate room with flat glass skylights, a fireplace in the center, and a bay window at one end. Judging by the skylights and the shape of the house, this room must be Abby Pope’s former library.

Wm. Pitt Rivers, Chateau Du Parc. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1910.

Chateau du Parc Conservatory of Music and Art, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 October 1911.

The Chateau du Parc photographs show a largely unfurnished room, suitable for use as an event space. From 1885 to 1894, this room would have been filled with the Popes’ books, art, and furniture.

Two sources can help to reconstruct the furniture of the room. The Brooklyn firm of Lang & Nau proudly advertised that they had designed “the beautiful library of Mr. N. Q. Pope, of Park place, Brooklyn, which stands alone in this country for its richness and workmanship.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1 June 1886). Their trade cards, housed at the Brooklyn Museum, give an idea of the sumptuous style in which they would have furnished such a room.


Trade cards for Lang & Nau, Brooklyn, NY. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

After Abby’s death in 1894, Norton Q. Pope sold her book collection, his art, and much of the decorative furnishings from the house. While the book collection was never fully cataloged, the art and furniture were detailed in an 1896 sale catalog by American Art Galleries. Many of the paintings and decorative items may have been in the library, as well as a number of the furniture pieces:

  • Two library chairs. Carved oak; covered in heavy tapestry of floral pattern.
  • Elaborate library sofa. Carved oak; high back and pillow arms; covered in antique tapestry.
  • Two library sofas. Carved oak; high backs and pillow arms; covered in heavy tapestry of floral pattern.
  • Large library table. Quartered oak; artistically carved; antique design. Length, 84 inches; width, 48 inches; height, 33 inches.
  • Library table. Mahogany; elaborately carved ornamentation; has two large and two small drawers.
  • Two revolving book cases. Carved oak; four glass doors and four carved panels to each. Height, 54 inches; width and depth, 26 inches.
  • Two folio book cases. Carved oak; bevelled glass in doors; large drawer in tops. Height of each, 42 inches; width, 37 inches; depth, 30 inches.
  • Revolving book case. Oak; square shape; brass mouldings; bevelled glass all round.
  • Mahogany book cases. Set of twelve; have brass mouldings; plate glass in doors, and mirrors. The above were made to order and built in the library of Mr. Pope’s Brooklyn residence.

From the various architectural descriptions, building photographs, and furnishings, we can begin to get a sense of Abby Pope’s library as a physical space. She likely had considerable input into the design of her library, from the construction of the addition to the choice of furniture and decorations. Her father was not a book collector, and her husband was more interested in the art than the books.

Abby’s taste seems representative of a society lady at the pinnacle of the Gilded Age. Much like her rare book collection, her library as a space followed the model of the ideal gentleman’s private library in every particular. She must have taken pride in welcoming visitors to her library and showing them the treasures of her book collection in that beautiful room. Although the house is now gone, we can use the available evidence to reconstruct the room that once contained one of the finest private libraries in Brooklyn.

The Library of Frances Mary Richardson Currer

Frances Mary Richardson Currer, photograph of a portrait by Masquerier. Image courtesy of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

Frances Mary Richardson Currer, photograph of a portrait by Masquerier, 1807. Image courtesy of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

To understand the largely 19th and 20th century history of American women book collectors, it is helpful to know the standard by which they were judged. In 1906, the London Times declared Miss Richardson Currer to be “the greatest woman book collector.” The New York Sun sprang to the defense of American bibliophiles,  claiming, “That title properly belongs … to Mrs. [Abby] Pope. Miss Currer formed an extensive library but not an important one.” The Publishers’ Weekly, covering the controversy, added the name of Cynthia Morgan St. John and concluded that “Each of these ladies deserves a fair and enduring place in the annals of bibliophilism as a well-informed and fearless book hunter.”

Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785-1861) is often regarded as the first major female book collector. In Reminiscences of a Literary Life (1836), Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote that she was “at the head of all female Collectors in Europe.” Seymour De Ricci called her “England’s earliest female bibliophile” in English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts (1930). While earlier women, mostly noble ladies, had collected finely-bound books as a pastime, it was often claimed that they did not do so from a true love of books. Miss Richardson Currer clearly loved books for their own sake. She inherited both the Richardson and Currer estates from her father, including a substantial library, to which she added greatly herself. It is also worth noting that she lived near the Brontë family and may have been the inspiration for Charlotte Brontë’s pen name of Currer Bell.

Eshton Hall Library from STEWART, C.J. A Catalogue of the Library Collected by Miss Richardson Currer, at Eshton Hall, Craven, Yorkshire. London: Privately printed, 1833. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Eshton Hall Library from C.J. Steward, A Catalogue of the Library Collected by Miss Richardson Currer, at Eshton Hall, Craven, Yorkshire. London: Privately printed, 1833. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1820, the London bookseller Robert Triphook compiled a catalogue of her library, Catalogue of the Library at Eshton Hall. The revised edition, published in 1833, includes several engravings of the library. While Frances Currer took a great pride in her library, she declined the offer to have her portrait included in Dibdin’s Reminiscences. She wrote, “I don’t doubt the Book will be an amusing one—and to have the Portraits of Gentlemen in it is very proper, but I don’t think it would be pleasant for me to be in the Gallery—the only Lady—so very conspicuous!” (Hunt, “Private Libraries in the Age of Bibliomania,” The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, 2014). Despite her friendship with Dibdin and his obvious respect for her as a book collector, he did not invite her to join the Roxburgh Club, the bibliophilic society he founded. The first woman to join that group would be the great collector Mary Hyde Eccles in 1985.

Armorial bookplate of Frances Mary Richardson Currer. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Armorial bookplate of Frances Mary Richardson Currer in The Booke of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments. Edinburgh: Printed by Robert Young, 1637. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Miss Richardson Currer was a close friend of Richard Heber, another ardent bibliomaniac whose own collection numbered over 100,000 volumes. In “Mighty Women Book Hunters,” (1929) A.S.W. Rosenbach recounted this possibly-apocryphal anecdote:

“Miss Richardson Currer owned a valuable library containing over fifteen thousand volumes, including a beautiful copy printed on vellum of the ‘Book of St. Albans.’ 1496, written by the first woman sports writer, Dame Juliana Berners. Richard Heber, probably the most enthusiastic book-collector who ever lived, tried to wheedle it out of her by hook or crook. Not succeeding by nefarious ways, he took the honorable method of proposing marriage. The lady, not caring to share the volume with a husband, indignantly refused. Good for her!”

Frances Currer had hoped that her library would remain in Eshton Hall after her death, but her family sold most of it at Sotheby’s in 1862.

Further Reading:
“Frances Currer.” The Bookhunter on Safari, November 10, 2011.

Gawthrop, Humphrey. “Frances-Mary Richardson Currer and Richard Heber: Two Unwearied Bibliophiles on the Fringe of the Brontë World.” Brontë Studies 27 (November 2002): 225–34.

Lee, Colin. “Currer, Frances Mary Richardson (1785-1861), Book Collector.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lister, Anthony. “The Lady of Eshton Hall.” Antiquarian Book Monthly Review 12 (1985): pp. 382-389.

In Pursuit of a Collector: Abby Ellen Pope, 1858-1894

Mrs. Norton Q. Pope

Mrs. Norton Q. Pope, photograph from Laura Geddes Smith, “Law Lectures for Women at the University of the City of New York,” The University Magazine vol. 10, no. 6 (June 1894): p. 256.

Abby Ellen Pope was one of the earliest American women book collectors to achieve national fame for her collection, although much of her life remains mysterious. The descriptions of her magnificent library are tantalizing, but reveal little of the woman behind the collection. The most comprehensive source for her biography is an article by Charles Ryskamp, published in The Book Collector in 1984.

The bookseller Bernard Quaritch described Mrs. Pope as “a very strong minded looking woman.” A portrait of Mrs. Pope painted by Benjamin Constant was sold after her death and its present location is unknown. Until recently, there were no known photographs of her. I found a picture of Mrs. Pope in a magazine article about the Woman’s Legal Education Society, of which she was a founder and director.

Abby Ellen Hanscom was born in Massachusetts in 1858 to Charlotte Ellen Pratt and John Hanscom. The family moved to Chicago in 1872, then to Brooklyn around 1885. We have no information about Abby Hanscom’s early education or how she began to collect books at such a high level. Early on, Abby must have received financial support from her father, a businessman who may or may not have been a book collector himself. Afterwards, her husband Norton Q. Pope apparently took an interest in book collecting as well, and certainly supported her own efforts.

In 1885 at the age of 27, Miss Abby Hanscom of Brooklyn suddenly emerged full-fledged as a serious book collector. Her triumph at the Osterley Park sale of Lord Jersey’s library is the most widely cited anecdote about this accomplished collector. At that sale, she outbid the British Museum to acquire one of the greatest books in her collection, the only known perfect copy of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, printed in 1485 by William Caxton. According to The Literary Collector (1901), it sold for £1,950, but she paid two commissions on it: “one to her regular agent and one to the elder Quaritch, who purchased it.” It seems unlikely that this was in fact her first major book purchase. She must have started collecting books prior to the Osterley Park sale, in order to have the knowledge and confidence required to pursue something like the Caxton Malory.

The Morgan.

Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, purchased by Abby Hanscom in 1885, now in the Morgan Library. Image courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.

By the time of Miss Hanscom’s marriage to Norton Quincy Pope in 1887, her collection was already well established. An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, describing their wedding, included a description of John Hanscom’s library and art room at 241 Park Place, “fitted up at a cost of $350,000.” It included “the original of the ‘Merry Tales of King Arthur,’ which cost Mr. Hanscom $15,000; the oldest edition of Shakespeare in this country, which costs $10,000, and the original manuscript of the majority of Robert Burns’ poems.” After marriage, Abby and her husband resided at 241 Park Place, where those books remained part of her own library. John Hanscom may have initially purchased the books and paid for the library fittings, but it seems clear that the collection belonged to Abby herself. All news articles after that date describe the library as Mrs. Pope’s, with no mention of her father.

“Two Park Place Mansions.” Brooklyn Eagle, Saturday, October 19, 1901, p. 17.

“Two Park Place Mansions.” Brooklyn Eagle, Saturday, October 19, 1901, p. 17.

The Popes’ house in Brooklyn has since been demolished, but I was able to find a newspaper article from 1901 that includes a photograph of the front of the house. According to the Brooklyn Eagle (April 10, 1892), the library was an elegant room in a wing of the house, 65 feet by 25 feet, with a dome and stained glass windows.  “It is a beautiful and fitting resting place for the unique collections which fill it to overflowing–rare books, manuscripts, autographs, and objects of art. The bookcases which line the walls are of mahogany, and so fashioned that the title of every volume on the crimson morocco covered shelves can be seen. Opposite the entrance to the room there is a huge carved wood mantle shelf, surmounted by a sixteenth century ormolu clock of turquoise, with candelabra to match.”

From “The Library of a Brooklyn Bibliophile,” Pratt Institute Monthly (March 1894):

“This library, one of the choicest jewels of Brooklyn, it has been our privilege to examine, through the gracious hospitality of its owner; and by her kind permission we make mention here of some part of its rare and beautiful contents, reluctantly leaving undescribed many things of almost equal interest. 

The room, which has been built especially to hold these riches, is worthy of the precious things it guards. The light is peculiarly pleasing; it enters from above, through flat skylights of artistic pale-tinted glass, and at night a soft brilliancy is shed by electric lights, also situated above the ceiling. …

Shelves, drawers, easels, book-cases, are all of choice woods and workmanship; the very cases that enshrine individual volumes of especial rarity and value are themselves good specimens of the binder’s art.” 

Abby Pope collected illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, early English literature, Americana, fine bindings, and other great rarities. She was said to be particularly interested in perfect copies, and would wait patiently for the right book to appear. High points of her collection included:

  • Missal of Charles VI of France
  • Ptolemy’s Geography, 1478
  • Shakespeare first, second, third, and fourth folios, and various quartos
  • Caxton editions of Morte d’Arthur and Confessio Amantis
  • Spenser’s Faerie Queene, first edition of both parts (1590, 1596)
  • Zumarraga’s Doctrina Breve
  • Hubbard’s Present State of New England
  • John Norton’s Redeemed Captive
  • Filson’s Kentucky
  • Works of Robert Burns, extra-illustrated by Mrs. Pope with original mss

After such a promising beginning, Abby Pope’s life came to an abrupt end in 1894. While staying at their summer home in Maine near her parents, she died of apoplexy at the age of 36. In the aftermath of her death, everything changed. The following events seem more like a soap opera than real life, and raise more questions than they answer. In 1895, Norton Q. Pope disposed of his horses and farm equipment at their home in Maine, and the Hanscoms’ nearby summer home was destroyed by fire. Pope sold Abby’s entire library to Dodd, Mead & Co. and soon after disposed of the art and household goods from their home in Brooklyn.  At the same time, Brooklyn society was surprised to learn of his marriage to Jennie Barnes, a cousin and companion of the late Mrs. Pope. Norton Q. Pope and his second wife moved to Boston.

Norton Q. Pope also had a falling out with Abby’s parents, with whom he had previously had a close relationship. In 1895, he brought suit against the Hanscoms regarding ownership of the Park Place property in which he and Abby had lived, which the Hanscoms had just sold to P.W. Rouss. John Hanscom, accused of failing to pay his creditors, apparently absconded with the remaining funds and moved to Maine with his wife. By December of 1895, the Hanscoms had Abby’s remains moved from Brooklyn to the Hanscom family plot in Maine. Two years later, after a short illness, Norton Q. Pope died of pneumonia.

Tnyt_morganhe book collector Robert Hoe bought a large portion of the Pope library from Dodd, Mead in 1896, with the remainder sold by Dodd, Mead in several catalogues mixed with other books. Hoe disposed of some duplicates and other materials from the Pope library in a Christie’s sale in 1902. The Robert Hoe library, still including many of Abby’s books, was sold in 1911. Most of the finest books from the Hoe sale were purchased by dealer George D. Smith for Henry E. Huntington, with one notable exception. After a spirited round of bidding, Belle da Costa Green, librarian of J.P. Morgan, triumphed over Smith and acquired the Caxton Malory at a price of $42,800. The New York Times reported that “her victory evoked a hearty round of applause, and a number of persons personally congratulated her.” The Hoe sale sparked renewed interest in Abby Pope, who was identified as the previous owner of the Caxton Malory. In a report of the sale on March 30, 1911, The Nation referred to her as “the most notable woman book-collector America has produced.”

For such an important figure in American book collecting history, we still know relatively little about Abby Pope’s life or collection. No personal papers of hers are known to exist, and no complete catalogue of her library was ever printed. I hold out hope that one day her personal papers will be discovered somewhere in an attic in Brooklyn. Abby Pope accomplished so much in her short life; I wish we could have seen the book collection she might have built given more time.

Further Reading:

Ryskamp, Charles. “Abbie Pope: Portrait of a Bibliophile.” Book Collector (Spring 1984): 38-52.

“Pope, Abbie Ellen Hanscom.” In Dictionary of American Book Collectors, by Donald C. Dickinson (New York, 1986): pp. 262-263.

“Abbie Hanscom Pope.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 140: American Book-Collectors and Bibliographers, 1st Series , ed. by Joseph Rosenblum (Detroit, 1994): pp. 189-193

Update 11/8/16: After reviewing more primary sources, I have changed the spelling of Abby’s name from Abbie. While it is spelled multiple ways, the format “Abby E. Pope” is the one she most frequently used.

Bookmaking on the Distaff Side

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Bookmaking on the Distaff Side is one of my favorite books in my women bibliophiles collection. It is a lovely book, produced in 1937 by an association of female printers called the Distaff Side. The book itself is a a compilation of essays and poetry by different printers, containing a multitude of typefaces, papers, and designs. Above, I have created a slideshow of the title pages for each contribution, which will give a sense of their appearance. This book is a delight to leaf through, from the tactile pleasure of the different papers to the eye-catching types, images, and layouts on every page.

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In addition to the design, the content of the volume is also of interest, being one of few books devoted almost exclusively to the history of women in bookmaking. One of the contributors, Edna Beilensen of the Peter Pauper Press, wrote:

“The Distaff Side is a loosely-knit organization of women enlisted from printing-offices, publishing houses, studios and other hiding-places where may be found devotees of the graphic arts. The group was born out of a righteous indignation that sufficient recognition had never been accorded to woman’s place in the history of printing. To amend this deficiency, The Distaff Side published its first book entitled Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, which disclosed the monumental contributions which spinsters, wives, and widows have made to the graphic arts.” (Quoted on the Rochester Institute of Technology website)

The Distaff Side has been described by Professor Kathleen Walkup of Mills College as “a non-hierarchical, truly feminist, collaboration among women printers.” Professor Walkup gave a talk at the American Printing History Association annual meeting in 2003 on “The Book as a Pot-Luck Offering: Edna Beilenson, Jane Grabhorn & the Books of The Distaff Side.” A brief description of the talk can be found in the APHA Newsletter no. 154 (Winter 2003).

Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, published in an edition of 100 copies, was truly a collaborative effort. The title and dedication pages were designed by Bruce Rogers, binding done by Miss M.E. Stewart of J.C. Valentine & Co., binding paper contributed by Miss Delight Rushmore, and numerous other participants mentioned in each contribution. Since the book lacks a table of contents, I have included one below,  including any notes provided about the printing, types, or paper. Most of the pages are unnumbered and some signatures still unopened.

Contents of Bookmaking on the Distaff Side

  1. The Committee, “Introduction.”
  2. Frederic W. Goudy, “Bertha M. Goudy: Memories.” Set in Goudy Bertham by Marie Berliner, printed at the Walpole Printing Office on Brenton paper contributed by the Japan Paper Co.
  3. Ruth Shepard Granniss, “Printer Maids, Wives and Widows.” Decorated by Hilda Scott, designed by Helen Gentry, composition by Chas. D. O’Brien and Samuel Strauss, presswork by Frederick Rudge, Joseph Benedetto, and William Hansen, paper from Ted Bliss and Seymour Paper Company, cuts by Arthur Moraldi and Horan Engraving Company.
  4. Marie Carré Phelps, “Bookbinding in the Home.” Designed by Jean B. Barr, printed by George Grady Press on Ivory Archer Plate Finish Paper by courtesy of the Whitehead and Alliger Company and halftone by Power Reproduction Corporation.
  5. Emily E. Connor, “Every man shall bear his own burden … ” Set in Caslon Old Style No. 471, printed at The Marchbanks Press on Duca D’Este paper furnished by T.N. Fairbanks Company.
  6. Evelyn Harter, “An Interview with the Eminent Professor Hugo K.O. Muttonquad.”  Illustrations by Susanne Suba, set in Monotype Bembo and Deepdene by The Haddon Craftsmen, printed by them on Worthy Hadrian Dove Gray, engravings made by Tri-Art Engraving Company.
  7. Biruta Sesnan, “CPW.” Designed and arranged by members of the Club of Printing Women of New York, printed at the Kalkhoff Press, New York, on 80 lb. White Utopian Deckle Edge.
  8. Alphonse Alkan, “Women as Compositors at the Time of the French Revolution: A Translation from the French.” Printed by Margaret Briant Evans, translation by Helen G. Field, printed on the Overbrook Press of Frank Altschul, personal mark re-drawn from a playing-card by W.A. Dwiggins, presswork by John MacNamara.
  9. Anne Lyon Haight, “Are Women the Natural Enemies of Books?” Illustrated by Anne Heyneman, designed by Leontine Gensamer, printed at the Powgen Press.
  10. Jane Grabhorn, “A Typografic Discourse for The Distaff Side of Printing: A Book by Ladies: From Jane Grabhorn’s Typographic Laboratory.” Jumbo Press, San Francisco.
  11. Edna K. Rushmore, “Ann Franklin and Elizabeth Timothy, Colonial Women Printers.” Hand-set by Edna K. Rushmore in Morris Jensonian type, printed on Worthy Charta paper by Arthur W. Rushmore at The Golden Hind press, Madison, New Jersey.
  12. Jessica Thompson, “A Short History of Ladies-in-Printing in Connecticut: Based on Some Very Thorough, Careful, & Exhausting Guesswork.” Hawthorn House, Windham, Connecticut.
  13. Ruth Doublas Keener, “The Punctuation Pets: An Apology to Grammarians.” Note: “First Cast in Boredom, January 1936; Redrawn on Scratch Pad, July 1937; Reproduced by the Meridian Gravure Company. Motion Picture Rights Reserved!”
  14. Edna Beilenson, “Men in Printing.” Designed by Edna Beilenson, printed at the Peter Pauper Press.
  15. Gertrude Stein, “I remember and this was long ago they were talking about automobiles …”
  16. Alison W. Davis, “How One of Them Got That Way.” Set in 10-point Walbaum, printed by the Stratford Press on cream Albion laid plate finish paper from the Whitaker Paper Company, linecut from the Eagle Photo Engraving Company.
  17. Louise Bonino, “A Brief Note on Women Illustrators.”
  18. Madeline Forgue, “Beaten to a Pulp.” Designed by Madeline Forgue, Linotype Granjon, Ludlow Eden Light and Cornet typefaces, printed on Worthy Hand and Arrows paper by the Black Cat Press.
  19. Wanda Gág, “Two Linoleum Blocks.” Printed through the courtesy of Elizabeth Wood at the Harbor Press.
  20. Marguerite Swanton, “Women as Typesetters.”
  21. Dorothy Judd Jackson, “Esther Inglis, Calligrapher, 1571-1624.” Designed by Helen Olson, printed at the Spiral Press, New York, from type set by the Composing Room, Inc.
  22. Barbara Cowles, “The Printer’s Mistress to His Wife.” Set by hand and printed on a hand press by Ellen Bentley, wood engravings by Gretel.
  23. Mary D. Alexander, “A Few Disadvantages of Being a Woman.” Designed and printed by Mary D. Alexander at the University of Chicago Press, paper is Worthy Hand and Arrows presented by Gene Zahringer of the Messinger Paper Company.
  24. Ruth Ordway Emmons, “Proof Reader.” Done with Goudy Text and Mediæval, assistance from The Maverick Press.
  25. Eleanor P. Spencer, “The Printer’s Relict: An Example to Her Sex.” Baltimore: The Amphora Press, 1937. Presswork by E.L. Hildreth & Company.
  26. “A Letter: Annie Thwaite, 1685-1732.” Printed for Anne T. Thwaite at the Printing-Office of the Dinglebury Post-Intelligencer, with reproductions of old wood-blocks in the possession of the Thwaite Estate.
  27. Anne Bradstreet, “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue …” Printed by E.L. Hildreth & Co., Brattleboro, Vermont.
  28. Helen Ferris, “Immemorially, the Children.” Set by hand in 12 point Cloister Oldstyle, printed on Warren’s Olde Style Paper by Sylvia Grablowsky at the Newark Museum Press, Newark, New Jersey.
  29. “Leisure.” Verse from The Poetry Bookshop of London. Designed, woodcut made and hand colored by Lucina Wakefield, printed at The Marchbanks Press on Gilio paper from T.N. Fairbanks Co.
  30. Janet Bogardus, “Some Bibliographical Notes About Women in Printing.” Printed by Parkway Printing Co., New York.