“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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.