Lummis Collection: Can We Get Your Autograph?

Rudy Ruiz

Former City Librarian Charles F. Lummis approached the Library Board of Directors in October of 1905 and recommended that a system of collecting autographs be put in place:

There are few intelligent people who have not some interest in distinguished autographs. At a very small expense for stationery, postage, and clerical work, this library could found an autograph department, using uniform sheets to be bound up in volumes. To contemporary autographs, which this institution would readily secure by proper request, important historical autographs could, from time to time, be added by gift and purchase; and with the natural growth of this institution, there would be in time a collection genuinely interesting and of large historical and monetary value.

The motion to put in place a system for collecting autographs was moved by Director Isidore B. Dockweiler and Lummis’s request was approved.

In 1906 the Autograph Collection was instituted. Blank stationary with the letterhead “Los Angeles Public Library Autographs,” an autograph solicitation letter, and a mailing tube or flat with prepaid return postage was sent to “people who count.” Those who count included artists, authors, and statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and Clara Barton. The letter that Lummis mailed asked these special individuals to “improve” the enclosed blank page, and improve they did. Lummis collected roughly 750 autographs that contained original watercolors, sketches, written music, poems and moving sentiments. The library continued to collect autographs after Lummis’s departure as City Librarian in 1910. The post-Lummis collection includes poems from Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps and correspondences from Helen Keller. The combined autograph collection totals 1700 autographs.

Today we are continuing to grow Lummis’ collection, but with an important twist. The library is inviting you to “improve the page” in order to leave your own mark on the city of L.A. Visit a participating library on June 2, 2018, to add your name, drawing, poem or memory to the library’s autograph collection. The library will provide blank stationery that is a replica of the original paper and a few samples of the original collection to help spark ideas.

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An unconventional portrait of Charles Fletcher Lummis by Richard Elwood Dodge, 1907
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Autograph solicitation letter, 1910
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“Shere Khan” by William Henry Drake, 1907
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Cartoon by Edmund Waller “Ted” Gale of the Los Angeles Times, c.1907
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Portrait by Elbridge Ayer Burbank, c.1906
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“America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates, c.1906
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Painting by Alexander Francis Harmer, c.1907
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Watercolor by Emile Sterns Perry, c.1909
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Cyanotype portrait of John Muir
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“Youth” poem by Langston Hughes, 1935
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“The Daybreakers” poem by Arna Bontemps, 1935
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Correspondence from Helen Keller to City Librarian Althea Warren, 1944

Ex Libris: Bookplates From Around the World

Central Library

During the Middle Ages and the early modern era, owning a book was a rare and precious thing.

Reserved only for the very wealthy, books were expensive, prestigious, and showed a certain status in society. If you were rich enough to own books, you wanted to make sure that anyone seeing them knew the books were yours.

Enter the ex libris (Latin for “from the books of…”), or bookplate. The earliest known examples come from Germany around the 15th century and were designed by famous artists of the time. They were pasted inside the front cover and often incorporated a name, motto, or coat of arms to better identify the book’s owner.

The library’s Bookplate Collection contains over 1,300 bookplates and includes a wide variety of graphic and illustrative styles, both color and black & white, ranging from the formal to the whimsical.

If you would like to learn more about ex libris, we invite you to visit Central Library on Sunday, April 22 at 1:30 p.m. for a presentation on bookplates from around the world by writer and bookplate collector Ruben Angaladian.

The Liberator: Librarians Work to Preserve Early 20th-Century L.A. African American Newspaper

Neale Stokes

The Liberator is an early 20th-century Los Angeles African American newspaper, whose owner and editor, Jefferson Lewis Edmonds, was born enslaved and spent twenty years in bondage before Emancipation. Edmonds was educated in Mississippi Freedmen’s Bureau schools and served two terms in the Mississippi State Assembly before moving to Los Angeles after the end of Reconstruction due to threats against his family.

Edmonds established The Liberator in Los Angeles in 1900 and was an early booster of Los Angeles as a destination for African American migration. While speaking out against racism and injustice in Los Angeles, he also touted the city as a haven compared to the South’s discrimination and violence.

The library has partnered with Jefferson Edmonds’s descendants, Paul and Arianne Edmonds, who loaned their family collection to be digitized through the California Revealed Digitization Program, to make publicly available as many issues of this influential publication as possible. Digitization work will begin in early 2018. We spoke to Arianne Edmonds and librarian Amanda Charles about their work to make sure Jefferson and The Liberator are not forgotten. Watch below to learn more:

Further Reading: