Library Collectors’ Council 2009 Acquisitions

The Library Collectors' Council is a group of major donors who help direct the growth of the collections through active involvement in the acquisition process.


Five new acquisitions join the Library’s research holdings

The Library Collectors’ Council held its 12th annual meeting on January 17, 2009. The council, a group of 31 member families who support acquisitions, met with Library staff  in Friends’ Hall to review the eight selections being proposed for purchase. After presentations by curators and a discussion of the research value of the materials, the group reconvened in the evening for a black-tie dinner and voting at the Valley Hunt Club. The dinner was generously underwritten by John and Alicia Fickewirth.

Five items ultimately were selected for addition to the Library’s holdings.

In the first round, the council selected an early15th century English breviary, a handbook used by priests and monks to guide them through the readings and rites of the Divine Office throughout the liturgical year of the Church.  In addition to its intrinsic value, Mary Robertson, the William A. Moffett Chief Curator of Manuscripts, noted its particular provenance from the church of St. Martin at Desford, Leicestershire, barely two miles from a principal Hastings manor at Kirby Muxloe.  Robertson explained that it is very probable that members of the influential Hastings family—barons Hastings and later earls of Huntingdon—worshiped in the parish church whose ceremonies were regulated by this manuscript. Henry Huntington acquired the Hastings family archive in 1926.



 Medieval breviary, manuscript on vellum, 15th century. Text in Latin and Middle English.


After two ballots, the council next acquired a group of early southern California landscape drawings by William Peschelt (1853–1919) depicting the Inglewood Park Cemetery, the garden plan of the J. Millbank residence in Santa Monica, and the Arthur Letts estate garden (1905–07). Letts was the founder of the Broadway department stores, and built an estate contemporary with Henry Huntington’s on 60 acres in Los Feliz. Though not as extensive, his horticultural gardens and collections rivaled Mr. Huntington’s, especially his succulents. Unfortunately, the Letts house was razed after his death and the gardens subdivided. Coincidently regarding the Millbank property, it was owned later by a relative of council member Bruce Coffey.



The Arthur Letts garden (1905–07), one of five landscape drawings by William A. Peschault 

depicting early 20th-century Southern California.



The council then took two more rounds to select the journal of Washington F. Davidson (1825–1859), later one of the first graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy, but here recording his service as a midshipman on the American sloop-of-war Dale in 1840–42. The journal records the Dale’s assignment to the Pacific fleet during this period as it sailed from Norfolk around Cape Horn, encountering British, Danish, French, Peruvian, and American whalers, and other ships of the U.S. fleet including the famous frigates Constitution and Constellation. Davidson also notes in detail meeting Agustin Gamarra Messia (1785¬–1841), later president of Peru, noting “Gamarra is a perfect tyrant and rules Peru with an iron rod.”



The journal of Washington F. Davidson, midshipman on the sloop-of-war Dale, 1840–42.



The council then selected a group of ten rare Civil War photographs by Isaac Bonsall depicting Union army activities, encampments, buildings and soldiers in and around Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1863. The Huntington has extensive holdings of photographs by Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Andrew Russell, but none by Bonsall before this acquisition. Photography curator Jennifer Watts noted that images by Bonsall are quite rare, “rarely reproduced, and often misattributed,” giving us the opportunity to “break new ground in photographic history, particularly of the Civil War.” It is important to note further that the original owners of these photographs have subsequently made a gift of more Bonsall images after this council purchase, which shows that timely acquisitions can sometimes further stimulate donations.



One of 10 rare Civil War photographs by Isaac Bonsall (1833–1909).



The Bonsall purchase left the council with fewer funds than the cost of any of the remaining offerings. The group suggested several coalitions to make up the difference, so it was put to a vote which coalition to support. The result was the purchase of the logbook and shipboard journal of the ship-of-the-line USS Franklin, covering its voyage of 1821–24 as flagship of the U.S. Navy’s first Pacific fleet. The logbook and journal was kept by the Franklin’s commanding officer Lieutenant William Hunter, who in addition to a being a meticulous diarist was also a gifted illustrator. The manuscript records Hunter’s views of ports of call such as Rio de Janiero and Valparaiso. Like the Davidson journal, the Franklin log adds to the Library’s extensive holdings of maritime history and documents America’s early efforts to secure its maritime commerce in the Pacific. The Collectors’ Council was able to make this last purchase thanks to additional support from Scott Jordan and Gina Valdez, Carleton and Laura Seaver, and Chuck and Geneva Thornton.



Logbook and shipboard journal of the USS Franklin, 1821–24.


The Huntington welcomes inquiries from those who would like to participate in shaping the Library’s collections through new acquisitions.  For information about joining the Library Collectors’ Council contact Avery Director of the Library, David S. Zeidberg by email or 626-405-2176.

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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