The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Postcards Folger Directors Sent Me

a guest post by Stephen Grant

a composite image of two sides of a postcard, one side with a image of the Great Hall at the Folger and the other with a handwritten note
J. Ainsworth postcard of Folger Exhibition Hall

Printed on picture side: Nothing

Printed on address side: Exhibition Hall, Folger Shakespeare Library Washington, DC
www.folger.edu       Barcode 0010060380        Photo by J. Ainsworth

Written message: March 3, 2022 Steve: This card shows the Great Hall as we rethought it in the late eighties – illuminated strapwork ceiling and architectural features, state-of-the-art casework, solar veil window shades, and curtains fabricated by King Fahd’s draper! The other card shows the hall in its original configuration. As I recall, we donated those cases to Howard University and kept at least one of the light stations. It’s probably gone by now, as are the “new” cases from that first renovation. If Spencer were to return to earth, he’d rewrite the “Mutabilitie Cantos with us in mind! WG

Postage stamp: None

Postmark: None

Destination: Arlington, VA

Color type: Color

Commentary: This is the first postcard I have received from a Folger Director. Werner Gundersheimer—a fellow Amherst alum—served as Director from 1984 to 2002. I sent him two postcards of the Great Hall and requested he write a message and mail it back to me. On the more recent card he comments on both cards and sent them inside an envelope (they are not postally used).

I deem anything a Folger Director writes about the Library as news. I consider this message newsworthy for two reasons: one, Werner is writing in 2022 about the Great Hall in the “late eighties” and two, in the last decade—2012 to 2022—the Great Hall underwent profound modifications.

a composite image of two sides of a postcard, one side with a image of the Great Hall at the Folger and the other side blank
Walter H. Miller postcard of Exhibition Hall

Printed on picture side: Nothing

Printed on address side: EXHIBITION GALLERY
The Folger Shakespeare Library Washington, D. C.
K Color Photo by Walter H. Miller Published by Walter H. Miller, Williamsburg, Virginia
33299      POST CARD Address      PLACE STAMP HERE

Written message: None

Postage stamp: None

Postmark: None

Destination: None

Color type: Color

Commentary: Werner Gundersheimer states above that “The other card shows the hall in its original configuration.”1 Walter H. Miller (1910–1999) was one of Williamsburg, Virginia’s leading photographers. Miller moved to Williamsburg after World War II and opened Miller’s Camera Shop. He soon began publishing postcards for national parks and other historic sites ranging from New England to Puerto Rico to the Mississippi River. He produced three books and thousands of postcards and other photographic products.

In a future post I will present all the Miller postcards I have acquired of the Folger or items in its collection (currently 14 postcards, with one postmark dated 1995).

 

a composite image of two sides of a postcard, one side with a image of a hedgehog and the other with a handwritten note
MMA postcard of a Hedgehog by Hans Hoffmann, late 16th c.

Printed on picture side: Nothing

Printed on address side: THE MET
A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus) Hans Hoffmann (German, ca, 1545/1550–1591/1592)
Watercolor and gouache on vellum, 8 1/8 x 12 1/16, before 1584
Purchase, Annette de la Renta Gift 2005 2005.347
© MMA store.metmuseum.org Printed in the U.S. A. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Written message: Dear Stephen, Isiah Berlin recalled an ancient Greek epigram: The Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing. Shakespeare was a fox. Henry Folger was a hedgehog. Yours, Michael Witmore

No postage stamp; electronic cancel

Postmark: MAR 10, 2022

Destination: Arlington, VA

Color type: Color

Commentary: This is the second postcard I have received from a Folger Director. Michael Witmore has served as Folger director since 2011. At the end of a guest blog post in The Collation on Feb. 17, 2022, I asked, “What are the chances I might find a Folger postcard written by a Folger director?” Mike emailed me, “This is a lovely blog entry, Steve. Happy to write you a postcard!”

 

A image of a book cover with a hedgehog and a fox with thought bubbles containing the title of and author of the book
The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin, revised edition, 2013

It turns out it was not a postcard of the Folger, but it was about Henry Folger, and about Shakespeare. It propelled me to acquire the book, The Hedgehog and the Fox, An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. Mike associates Shakespeare with a fox, and Henry Folger with a hedgehog. Perhaps one can interpret that Folger knew one thing, Shakespeare (and the petroleum industry about which, as a world authority, he wrote an encyclopedia article). On the other hand, Shakespeare knew many things, or addressed many subjects: people, periods, moods, and emotions in poetry, histories, tragedies, and comedies.

Although the word “postcard” does not appear in the index to British philosopher Berlin’s essay, I did note the word in the text in reference to Greek scholar Eric Robertson Dodds, who wrote a postcard to Isaiah Berlin declaring that the meaning of Greek poet Archilochus’s fox and hedgehog distinctions was not as clear as Berlin implied. Berlin lamented about the postcard (considered an ephemera, after all) in these terms: “All three scholars, Fraenkel and Bowra by word of mouth, Dodds in a postcard (which, alas, after a quarter of a century, I cannot find) told me the meaning of the fragment was not clear.”

 

a composite image of two sides of a postcard, one side with a image of a book with an embroidered binding and the other with a handwritten note
Keller postcard of 1608 psalter with embroidered binding by Esther Inglis

Printed on picture side: Nothing

Printed on address side: Seventeenth-century binding of red velvet embroidered with silver thread and seed pearls. Esther Inglis, “Argumenta psalmorum Davidis,: 1608.
The Folger Shakespeare Library Washington, D.C.
PUBLISHED BY KELLER COLOR, INC. CLIFTON, N. J. 07014
MADE BY DEXTER PRESS, WEST NYACK, NEW YORK 19500-D

Written message: 3/28/22 The Folger’s collection of embroidered psalters is very precious to me, and I always showed them in vault tours. I love to imagine them in a woman’s pocket, drawn out for a quiet moment of reflection & prayer. Tiny works of art & vivid testimony of the Folger’s inspired stewardship – All best, Gail Paster

Postage stamp: None

Postmark: None

Destination: Arlington, VA

Color type: Color

Commentary: This is the third postcard I have received from a Folger Director. Gail Paster served as Folger Director from 2002 to 2011. Gail wrote that she would gladly write a Folger postcard to me but that she had none in her Florida desk drawer. On March 8, 2022, I sent Gail a list of eight Walter Miller postcards of the Folger and asked her to pick one. She picked a 1608 psalter, raising the question in my mind, “what other objects have been considered precious and featured in Folger Director-led vault tours?”

With three directors’ postcards in hand—representing 38 of the 90 years (42 percent) since the Library’s founding—I am struck by the diversity. One focuses on a room in the building, one on an artifact in the collection, and one an enduring question of human existence, a question that goes back to the Greek poet Archilochus.

Mike’s card was the only postcard of the three that was postally used; it was an electronic cancel.

General commentary: I also value statements by current and recent Folger staff concerning postcards in the Folger collection. I want to share two, the first from Erin Blake in 2019 in a Collation comment; the second in an email exchange with Melody Fetske in 2022.

First: September 13, 2019 at 3:58 pm: “Thanks for the interesting post, Stephen. I’d always assumed that this color postcard was issued by the Folger, since it’s located in the Folger Archives, so you’ve inadvertently sparked an important conversation among the staff here. Institutional archives preserve material generated by and for the institution, like the black-and-white picture postcards printed for the Folger by the Meriden Gravure Company. Because the postcard highlighted in your post depicts the Folger, but wasn’t generated by the Folger, it doesn’t really belong in the Folger Archives.

In fact, the Folger collection includes hundreds of picture postcards. Most of them are in the art collection because they depict actors and actresses, Shakespearian scenes, or places related to Shakespeare. Others are in the manuscript collection because the message, sender, and/or recipient have a connection to Shakespeare or the theater. Modern postal history is out-of-scope for the Folger, so the card catalog had no heading for “Postcards” — it was time consuming enough to type and file catalog cards for the artists, titles, and subjects. These catalog records are now in Hamnet, but they were simply re-keyed, not re-cataloged, so the only clue that a print or photograph might be a postcard is the size. Postcards cataloged recently do have “postcards” in the Genre/Form field of the record, since that just requires typing one more line of text rather than a card’s-worth of information (see the record for ART Vol. e318 for example, a set of six postcards of Stratford-upon-Avon cataloged in 2015).

In theory, the postcard in your post could be moved from Folger Archives to the art collection, since it depicts a place related to Shakespeare. It would probably be more useful to researchers, though, if it were part of a yet-to-be-named collection of items related to the Folger, but not generated by the Folger. Stay tuned for further developments.”

Second, my 2022 question to Melody Fetske: “Do you know how I could (eventually) find my way into the Folger’s Gift Shop archive to inform myself on its ordering history of POSTCARDS, going back to the first Matt Frederick?”

Her reply to me: “I am not sure that such an archive exists. The shop has always been more of an afterthought and not very attentive to incorporating their items into the archives. There may be a file of shop postcards from the past but likely no order or sales records. Basically I would not hold out much hope on any useful archive other than sales records which likely do not extend beyond the required 7-year retention period. The accounting records only track total sales by categories and do not drill down to the item level.  Good luck, the postcards are a hidden jewel.”

An image of two men and a woman wearing name tags
Folger Shakespeare Library Directors
Werner Gundersheimer, Michael Witmore, and Gail Kern Paster
At the Folger on Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Stephen Grant

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. Editor’s note: For more information about the original configuration of the exhibition hall, see Erin Blake’s post on the subject.

One Comment


  • Stephen, this is a wonderful post drawing together the administrators and the postcard collection. I loved Michael Witmore’s Fox/Hedgehog comment. Gail K. Pastor’s “hidden jewel” comment was a perfect close. Thoroughly enjoyable view of this collection!


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