The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Postcards in the (home) archive: Brenda Putnam and Puck

a guest post by Stephen Grant

This post, Dear Readers, is divided into three parts: 

  • Kodak AZO postcards of Puck statue
  • 3 Meriden Gravure Co. postcards of Puck statue
  • 1 photograph of Brenda Putnam, Puck sculptor

We start with 2 cards printed on Kodak AZO paper, similar to the ones of the 9 Gregory bas-reliefs you examined before. 

Fig. 1, Left: Closeup of Puck Statue, Kodak AZO postcard
Fig. 2, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant
Fig. 3, Left: Closeup of Puck Statue, Kodak AZO postcard
Fig. 4, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant

What differences do we see between the two picture sides, Fig. 1 and Fig. 3?  

In Fig. 1, “Statue of Puck Folger Shakespeare Library” is superimposed in small white printed letters on the plinth below the statue. Fig. 3 is devoid of identification on the picture side. 

In Fig. 1, the photo has been cropped more on the left side than in Fig. 3; compare the space to the left of the quotation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “LORD, WHAT FOOLES THESE MORTALS BE!” 

Fig. 1. is overall darker than Fig. 3; compare the aluminum grillwork and the etched marble letters of the quotation. In Fig. 3, Puck’s right foot points toward two carved levels under the balcony that are not visible in Fig.  1. 

What differences do we see between the two address sides, Fig. 2 and Fig. 4?  

Fig. 2 presents one line of identification on the left side; Fig. 4 displays three lines.  

Only Fig. 2 discloses the address of the photographer Henry H. Rideout (1852-1933)’s studio (607 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C.). Fig. 4 is the only card of the two copyrighted. I speculate that this address side was developed AFTER that of Fig. 2 for that reason alone. Another clue is in the amateurish way in which the first card was cut, slicing off the tops of the first 3 words. The centering of the printed 3 lines in Fig. 4 reflects a more professional job. Fig. 4 alone divulges the name of the sculptor, Brenda Putnam. 

Fig. 5, Left: Closeup of Puck Statue, Kodak AZO postcard
Fig. 6, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant

The unidentified photographer (perhaps also Rideout) in Fig. 5 is standing further back from the west façade of the Folger and nearer 2nd St., S.E. Fig. 1 and Fig. 5 each have “Statue of Puck” and “Folger Shakespeare Library” superimposed on the lower part of the card, lower left for Fig. 1. and lower right for Fig. 5, the font in the latter being not as thick—or white—letters as in Fig. 1. Fig. 6 looks different from Fig. 1 & Fig. 3 in one important way: Fig. 1 & Fig. 3 are much lighter, perhaps having captured a bright western sun. We might speculate that Fig. 5-6 with no attribution regarding the identification of the photographer was the developed BEFORE the above Puck postcards with attribution. As Folger postcards developed in the 1930s, one can imagine that with the years they became more sophisticated. If we had several Puck AZO postcards that had been sent through the mail (I have only one for the momentwith clear postmarks, we could make more educated guesses about their age. 

Gentle Readers, we now leave Rideout to return to our photographer friend, Horydczak, who also trained his eye on Puck, up close and at a distance. The Meriden Gravure Co. produced two black-and-white cards (Fig. 8 and Fig. 10, below) with so much information printed on them that the correspondent finds the space to write a message nearly cut in half!  

Fig. 7, Left: Detail of the fountain at the west of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the figure of Puck by Brenda Putnam; Meriden Gravure Co. postcard
Fig. 8, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant
Fig. 9, Left: The Fountain, with the figure of Puck by Brenda Putnam; Meriden Gravure Co. postcard
Fig. 10, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant

We retain the impression that Meriden Gravure Co. postcards reflect a more professional product than Kodak AZO postcards. Nevertheless Meriden Gravure Co. postcards do not have any serial numbers printed on each of them, a characteristic that developed in the 1930s, as we shall see in posts over the next few months. 

Did you notice the pencil markings on both cards? Can you guess what they might mean, 11/8? Well, at some postcard show somewhere some time I purchased 11 Horydczak cards for $8.   

Readers, I interrupt my writing of this blog post to add a last-minute addition to my Folger postcard collection!

Fig. 11, Left: The Fountain, with the figure of Puck by Brenda Putnam; Meriden Gravure Co. postcard
Fig. 12, Right: Address side of the same card
Author’s Collection, photos by Stephen Grant

It’s rare to find a Folger postcard with the stamp affixed on the picture side as in Fig. 11. This is only my second. The stamp commemorates 300 years since 1635 and the earliest English settlements in Connecticut, symbolized by a Charter Oak tree. It is a handsome but not a rare stamp; 70,726,800 copies were issued. It is cataloged in Scott (the standard reference for postage stamp collecting) as A249.  

In Fig. 11, we recognize the Horydczak photo in Fig. 9. When we compare Fig. 10 with Fig. 12, we see a minor stylistic alteration in how the printed material is disposed on the address side. Fig. 12 has a line of text all the way across the bottom, while Fig. 10 shows a more distinct division between the space for the message and for the address. 

The Folgers had conceived the idea of a marble statue “embowered in shrubbery” overlooking a fountain, bringing us to sculptor Brenda Putnam. Her distinguished father Herbert Putnam was the longest-serving Librarian of Congress, 1899-1939, and a forceful advocate for the Folgers to be able to purchase the land across the street from the Library of Congress.1 On Nov. 19, 1929, consulting architect Alexander Trowbridge wrote principal architect Paul Cret, “Dr. Putnam’s daughter Brenda Putnam is an accomplished sculptor and has done excellent work. I wonder what you would think of the idea of inviting her to do the figure on the fountain. It would be a most gracious gesture if this suggestion should by accepted by Mr. Folger and the invitation should come directly from him to Brenda Putnam. I believe she is qualified to do this (Folger Archives, Box 27). Mr. Folger was happy to go along with the suggestion, writing Trowbridge on May 5, 1930 “providing you and Mr. Cret feel sure she is able to produce a design in keeping with the rest of the construction. We are under great obligations to Dr. Putnam, and for that and other reasons will be glad to see the name of his daughter associated with our project” (Folger Archives, Box 27).

On May 26, 1930, an “Agreement between Brenda Putnam and Henry C. Folger” was signed in the amount of $6,000 for fountain figure, to be completed about Oct. 31. Standard Oil Company staffer Alexander Welsh signed for the ailing Mr. Folger, who had been confined to his bed since mid-May.   

Fig. 13. Brenda Putnam
Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

On Saturday, April 23, 1932 (Shakespeare’s 368th birthday) a packed crowd gathered inside the Folger theatre to attend the Library’s official opening in presence of sitting President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover. Sprinkled among the throng sat the well-known proponents of the successful cooperation to produce the marble bas-reliefs, Folger bust, and Puck statue: architects Paul Cret and Alexander Trowbridge, sculptors John Gregory and Brenda Putnam, Putnam’s librarian father Herbert Putnam, and general contractor James Baird. Unrecognized in a back row sat two Tuscan marble carvers, Joseph Garatti and Carlo Pigozzi. 

According to a story I heard from the muchmissed Betsy Walsh (former head of reader services), one day in the 1980s, an elderly gentleman appeared at the Folger. He introduced himself as Peter Gazzola of Rye, New York. He revealed that at age fifteen he had been the model for Puck. Mr. Gazzola and his son made contributions to the Library to keep Puck perpetually young.

 

Stephen H. Grant is a retired Foreign Service officer turned writer. He is the author of, among other things, several books about postcards, and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. He can be found on the web at https://www.stephenhgrant.com and on Twitter at @shgauthor.

  1. Grant, Stephen H. “A Most Interesting and Attractive Problem: Creating Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library.” Washington History, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2012, 2–21.

One Comment


  • Interesting post! In the Herbert Putnam papers in the LC Manuscript Division, there photos and some writings between Brenda and her father Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam. I recall one in which Brenda asked her father to send more money, saying that as an artist she will never be able to support herself. A bit of self-deprecating humor, I imagine.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)