On Friday, the Library Assistant, an intrepid library volunteer, and a patient Yale Club engineer helped me install a new exhibition in the library. It’s my first exhibition here at the Yale Club (and only the second I have ever worked on). The Library Committee and I decided to put together a Centennial-themed exhibition to complement the Club’s celebration of its 100 years at the 50 Vanderbilt Address; my co-curator and I chose, after much discussion and research, to focus on figures in publishing, writing, and music who were members at the time of the 1915 opening: Henry Holt, Chauncey DePew, Charles Ives, and Cole Porter.
The connection made sense for us. Yale Club members, at the time of the 1915 building opening as well as now, are a varied and impressive lot. To connect specifically to words and music, the things that fill our little corner of the Club (at least in spirit in the erstwhile Music Room), gave us both a narrow focus and the ability to draw our exhibition materials almost exclusively from items already in our collection.
When I came across the name of the great publisher, Henry Holt in one of the Club’s 1915 member directories, I was delighted to add his name to our exhibition list. I was disappointed, however, that our catalog did not show any first editions of his publications from the period. We had plenty of books from Henry Holt & Company, including reprints of books he published during and around 1915, but none – according to the catalog – that were actually from 1915. So, I worked on other angles – trying to find good pictures of Holt, trying to find his name in the Club’s committee meeting minutes – but to no avail.
After some weeks, I returned to the 1915 Holt reprint editions on our shelves. The catalog record for one book, a copy of W.E.B DuBois’ The Negro, first published by Holt in 1915 and reprinted in the 1960s, at least fit in to the theme of the exhibition – here was a club member, bringing the words of a major scholar into print in 1915. At least, I thought, the book is originally from 1915, even if this copy is not. When I turned to the shelves, I worried that this volume, like so many others listed in our catalog, would simply be missing. It was not missing – but it also was not a reprint edition from the 1960s.
It was a first edition of DuBois’ book from 1915, containing a presentation bookplate from Henry Holt & Company, opposite our Club’s standard bookplate:
Not only was this a first edition of DuBois’ book, it also showed one of our members bringing the modern knowledge he supported through his publishing into the space of his social club.
So what happened that this special little book was lost in our shelves?
The transition to electronic cataloging, for one. From what I understand, this collection was transitioned to an electronic catalog using an external company. To expedite the process, perhaps the staff sometimes used the first record they found, rather than the precise record?
Why, long before the transition to an electronic catalog, would it not get pulled from the shelves as a Special Collections item, given its significant connection to Yale Club history? It’s difficult to tell. The book appeared in a fairly unassuming publisher case binding – it was part of Holt’s Home University Library of Modern Knowledge and might have looked to library staff like the many Modern Library and home library series books that were common in the first half of the twentieth century. Alternatively, the inscription on the bookplate is almost certainly the hand of the librarian, rather than Mr. Holt. It was not, in the strictest sense, therefore valuable. That may also explain the book unfriendly scotch tape that was unfortunately used to “repair” the book at some point.
We are lucky, though, given the tendency of books to disappear from the shelves here at the Yale Club, that this little bit of Yale Club history managed to remain here, more or less safely, for us to discover and display.
Members of the Yale Club are invited to visit the Library’s new exhibition, The Yale Club and New York: Words & Music in 1915, on view now through the summer 2015.