Cranbrook’s Great Books (Part I)

Across Cranbrook’s campus are eleven different spaces, including the Archives, that house book collections – some 110,000 physical items. Several of these spaces are typical school or academic research libraries, where students, faculty, and staff can check out the majority of these books. As a library and information science professional, I champion the importance of these lending libraries and the egalitarian access to information they provide.

In this post, however, I’d like to focus on Cranbrook’s non-circulating book collections – those rare, historic, or valuable tomes that, in many cases, hide in plain sight in public areas. With help from colleagues at the Academy of Art, Schools, Institute of Science, and Center for Collections and Research, I’ll highlight some of these gems that promise to delight the bibliophile, art appreciator, historian, or simply the Cranbrook curious.

Cranbrook’s special book collections are carefully preserved as both informational and evidential artifacts, and many are housed within cultural heritage areas. Valued not only for research purposes, they also serve as historical objects which help individually or collectively to tell the Cranbrook story.

South end view of the newly completed Cranbrook House Library, 1920. John Wallace Gillies, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The origin of book collecting at Cranbrook actually predates any of the current collection spaces and begins with Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth. George, in particular, was an enthusiastic collector, and started acquiring volumes in 1900, commissioning purchases of William Morris works and other fine books in London. As George explained, “I am not a millionaire and cannot pay the big prices now prevailing in New York.” His strategy allowed him to accumulate 1,000 books by 1916, effectively seeding the Cranbrook House Library Collection when construction of the library wing was completed four years later.

George Booth would eventually amass a book collection of over 5,000 volumes. Roughly thirty percent of these remain in the house library, maintained to provide historical context for visitors, not necessarily to be referenced for their informational content. Several others, designated as rare and/or valuable for their fine craftsmanship or historical significance to Cranbrook, are now housed at the Archives for preservation and safekeeping. Here they form the nucleus of a small collection that includes volumes obtained through donations of personal papers. While archives are not typically collectors of secondary sources, aka books, all the volumes in this collection serve as part of the research process for understanding the people, places, and things of Cranbrook.

1848 copy of Greene’s First Lessons in Grammar inscribed by a young Ellen Scripps Booth and including a book plate common to all books in George Booth’s library. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Of those originating with the Cranbrook House Library are included early works written or illustrated by Booth family members or Cranbrook students and staff, such as Brookside School’s The Stream and The Detroit News, 1873-1917, illustrated by George’s son, James Scripps Booth. There are also volumes with personal inscriptions to and from Booth Family members, providing an idea of both their interests and affiliations, as well as their penmanship skills.

Of artistic merit, the illuminated pages of Hymns to the Elements by Jessie Bayes stand out. Rare and beautiful artifacts produced by one of the leading illuminators of her time, they were purchased by George at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in 1924. Likewise valuable, nine volumes showcase the exquisite craftsmanship of bookbinder, Jean Eschmann, head of Cranbrook’s Arts and Crafts Studio Bindery from 1929-1933.

The cornerstone of the Archives’ Rare and Special Book Collection is certainly a complete run of works produced by George Booth’s small printing venture, The Cranbrook Press. The William Morris Kelmscott Press volumes George had begun purchasing at this time served as models for his own printings. Operating from 1900-1902 above The Detroit News, George’s fine press represented his desire to achieve a “whole” book and the level of craftmanship it took to accomplish. George himself designed the scroll work borders and initial letters of each paragraph, and every volume was hand colored, some even by his sister Bertha.

So what happened to the bulk of the volumes from Cranbrook House Library no longer in that space? Most were dispersed among Cranbrook’s institutions, many by George himself, as the Cranbrook we know today was constructed in the subsequent decades. This shifting of collections began almost immediately with the founding of the Academy of Art, as massive art folios were moved so that they could be readily accessed by Academy students, as well as the artisans and craftsmen creating Cranbrook’s nascent campus. They, along with many other art and architecture texts, would again move in 1942 to the Art Museum building where they are housed today as one of three special collections.

The Folio Collection is comprised of 1,400 volumes, the majority of which were published in the late 1800s to early 1900s (a few date back to the early 1600s!). With a strong focus on architecture, texts also include subjects such as painting, sculpture, metal work, textiles, and garden design.

Rare books include (clockwise from top) an Ed Ruscha artist’s book, an 1896 Kelmscott Chaucer, a book written by Henry Scripps Booth, a Cranbrook Press copy, a signed copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, two examples of special bindings, and a signed copy of Andy Warhol’s America. Courtesy of Judy Dyki, Cranbrook Academy of Art.

The Academy Library’s Rare Book Collection also originated with transfers from George Booth’s library, and continues to grow with new acquisitions. Currently, it contains 775 volumes. Criteria for inclusion considers age, special bindings, historical significance to Cranbrook, or monetary value. The collection also includes signed copies and artists’ books.

The Masters Theses/Statements Collection are books produced by Academy students to fulfill a graduation requirement. These physical, nontraditional theses are documentations of students’ work, research, and influences during their time at the Academy, including discussion of their work within the context of their disciplines. Theses date back to 1942 when the Academy became a degree-granting institution, and the oldest consist of typewritten pages with photographs glued in with rubber cement. The collection now contains 4,600 physical books, with yearly additions of 60-70 works (contemporary examples shown above).

Stay tuned for Part II, focusing on book collections at the Schools, Institute of Science, Saarinen House, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Credits: Information on the Academy of Art Library provided by Judy Dyki, Director of Academic Programs and Library.

[Editor’s Note: The rare books in the Archives and Academy of Art collections may be viewed on site only. Availability is at the discretion of the archivists and librarians due to their valuable and often fragile nature.]

One thought on “Cranbrook’s Great Books (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Cranbrook’s Great Books (Part II) | Cranbrook Kitchen Sink

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