Across the Span of Three Centuries: What the Collection Tells Us About the Gratz Community
by Nancy H. Nitzberg, M.A., M.S.
Director of Library Services, Gratz College
The Tuttleman Library’s printed book collection tells us much about Gratz College and its community of scholars, including faculty, alumni, students and the community beyond. What I am referring to is not only the books which contain subject matter that pertains to the establishment and history of the Gratz College, but what the entirety of the collection says about the Gratz community. As it brings together the lives of many people over the span of three centuries, we have an opportunity to see this collection from a perspective that informs us of the big picture.
It should be stated that the early print collection does reflect the curriculum of the early history of the college, with emphasis on Jewish subjects and the teaching of them.
In the Bachman Rare Book Room, named for Lois and Martin Bachman, are books formerly owned by the family of Hyman Gratz, the man who left funds that were used to establish the college. Inscriptions written with quill pens and 18th century ink identify the books’ former owners. Hyman Gratz, born in 1776 -- the son of a Jewish immigrant father and a Jewish mother who was born in America -- along with his siblings, appreciated the religious freedom they experienced, something that was denied to their father, uncle and paternal grandfather, that led them to leave Europe. Some of these books with Gratz family provenance had been utilized as resources of the college library, as is evidenced by their historic call number labels on their spines. Books from the Gratz family include a book, a Yom Kippur machzor (prayer book, London, 1771) belonging to Hyman Gratz’s mother, Miriam (née Simon) Gratz, and some titles belonging to his brother Simon Gratz, including David Levi’s Lingua sacra in three parts (containing sections on Hebrew grammar, a Hebrew English dictionary and more), published during the years 1785-1787, and Letters of Certain Jews to Monsieur Voltaire (1795).
These books tell us what Jews who could afford books were reading in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
We also see a variety of examples of bookbinding in this early group of books; some books may have been bound in England, and some were likely bound by Philadelphia-area craftspeople. One binding in particular may be the work of Jane Aitken, a woman bookbinder who was trained by her father and ran the family bindery and print shop when her father was not able to continue working. The style is very similar to books known to have been bound by her, found in other library collections.
Also in the Bachman Rare Book Room are the original ledger books with the early financial transactions of the college. The 1895 ledger cites the first deposit of funds (from the annuity left by Hyman Gratz), tells us of the title first book purchased, (The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 1), records the salaries paid to the first lecturers, and even payments to the bookbinder. Income is noted from rental properties on Market Street in Philadelphia, formerly owned by Hyman Gratz.
Donations from the Philadelphia-area Jewish community fill the shelves along with titles that were selected by librarians over the years. There are books with inscriptions and/or bookplates of the names of former Gratz College faculty members, alumni, Jewish leaders of Philadelphia and members of the public who valued their books and looked for a place where they would be safely housed and available for future use.
The places where some of these books were published tell us of the origins of Jewish immigrants and of the languages they read. Many nineteenth and twentieth century scholarly books on Jewish topics are in German. Yiddish books cover vast topics from early copies of the Tse'nah ur'enah (the Hebrew Bible in the vernacular, with illustrations, yet!) to a comprehensive selection of Yiddish literature by notable and less well-known authors. Also on the shelves are Yiddish translations of work by authors including Jack London, whose Di Shtime fun blut, 1919 (The Call of the Wild), along with A. Muzikant’s Dos Naye Opera Buhk, 1923 (The New Opera Book) were available to recent immigrants who wished to broaden their knowledge. In the latter, the plots of twenty operas are described in Yiddish; chronologically, the imprint predates the first Yiddish radio show in 1931 which featured operas as its subject matter.
A paper-covered booklet in Hebrew, Tolstoy’s A Prisoner of the Caucasus, published in Warsaw in the 1890s, may tell us of the confluence of ideas and movements that had some influence on European Jews such as the Haskalah and the early Zionist interest in reviving the Hebrew language. This individually published pamphlet is pocket-size, meaning its portable size allowed the owner to read it when time permitted, whether in transit or at home, perhaps the late nineteenth century equivalent of an ebook on a pocket-size smartphone.
The varied bookbindings, paper and printing of these diverse imprints also tell us something of the communities which produced these books such as the economic conditions, the paper trade, and printing methods.
Speaking of books in Hebrew, it was not uncommon for Gratz College faculty to purchase books when traveling to pre-state Israel and modern Israel to purchase books of scholarly and literary interest for the library. The college had a “head start” in collecting books in the area of Jewish Studies, as such departments did not yet exist in mainstream colleges and universities. Such titles are borrowed from the Tuttleman Library by scholars at those universities that lack these now scarce works.
The Tuttleman Library directors appear to have had a conservative approach to “deaccessioning” materials. Books on many topics which span centuries are available so that researchers can trace the lines of scholarly thinking through the decades if not the centuries. Our pamphlet collections also contain primary source information reflecting the times and topics which they address. They offer insight into an era when “leafleting” was an early form of social media in which ideas were shared and dispersed.
The music collection, with its sheet music, books and sound recordings in various formats share the vast time frame and subject matter as do other collections of the library. These materials came to Gratz College through various sources and convey a similar sense of the wide range of history that contributes to the knowledge base and reflects the interests of the Gratz community.
— JANUARY 2019