In Part I of this post, we explored Cranbrook’s love of the book, from its origins with founders George and Ellen Booth, to the existing special collections at the Archives and Academy of Art. I invite you now to learn of the many rare, valuable, and historical tomes whose existence may be unknown to most or simply overlooked in collections at the Schools, Institute of Science, and two historic homes cared for by the Center for Collections and Research: Saarinen House and Smith House.
Like the Academy of Art, although not at all on the same scale, books from George and Ellen’s Cranbrook House Library were dispersed to the Cranbrook Schools Libraries, now comprised of five separate spaces. Following the Booth’s example, Cranbrook School Headmaster Harry D. Hoey (1950-1964) and Latin teacher George Patch (1928-1944, Emeritus 1944-1950) donated 120 books from their personal libraries to the School’s library in the 1950s, forming one of several special collections. Known as the Hoey Patch Collection, all of the volumes focus on an aspect of Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War.
Highlights include a First edition of The Life of Abraham Lincoln, the first full-scale biography of the President. Written by newspaper editor J.G. Holland, it was published shortly after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Also included is a first edition, two-volume set of the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Ulysses S. Grant penned his autobiography shortly before his death in 1885 as a means of financial support for his family. It was published with the support of his friend Mark Twain by the Charles L. Webster Company (owned by Twain’s nephew).
Another special collection includes just one item, the Passage of Leadership book. Created by Cranbrook Schools students, it is a one-of-a-kind commemoration of the significance of a student’s senior year. Started in 1994 by male students as a rite of passage equivalent to the female student tradition of a ring ceremony, it was signed by rising senior boys. With the current graduating Class of 2022, the book now includes signatures of all Cranbrook School’s rising seniors, regardless of gender.
While it may come as no surprise that the Schools have library collections, did you know the Institute of Science does too? Once a circulating library, open to the general public, it now maintains only volumes directly related to Institute collections. Used frequently by museum staff, many are still housed in the original library location and include special historical volumes. These include government publications from esteemed institutions such as the Smithsonian, archeology publications of the University of Michigan, and the Pioneer & Historical Journal, now known as Michigan History Magazine.
Of the Library’s 2,000 volumes, twenty percent are kept in the collections storage area, a closely maintained, climate controlled environment. These folios, maps, foreign-language publications, and rare books are comprised of some shockingly valuable artifacts.
In addition to a first edition On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, the Institute houses a series of letters, published in the mid-eighteenth century in pamphlet form, written by Benjamin Franklin to a colleague in Great Britain. The letters detail his experiments on electricity, including his famous kite-and-key experiment. As if that weren’t unique enough, this copy is signed by its owner – Benedict Arnold!
Even Cranbrook’s historic homes, the Saarinen House and Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, hold book treasures. Similar to the Cranbrook House Library, these are maintained for historical accuracy, but their value goes beyond decorative objects. The Center curatorial staff relies on both libraries for what they reveal about their owners. And, like the Cranbrook House Library, specific volumes designated as rare or valuable are not actually kept on display but are housed at the Archives for preservation and security purposes.
The Saarinen House Book Room, a light-filled nook adjoining the living room, is where Eliel and Loja Saarinen would retire each afternoon. The existing book collection represents only part of the Saarinen’s original library, the rest having been dispersed amongst museums and Saarinen family members. While you may not find many architectural volumes on the shelves these days, what does remain portrays a very well-read, multi-lingual family, with volumes in English, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, French, and German.
More than just demonstrating their interests, volumes in the library also provide information about the Saarinen’s circle of friends. Many include personal inscriptions, like those from fellow Academy of Art artists, often in a beautiful, graceful hand, or demonstrate fine craftsmanship on par with William Morris’ Kelmscott Press.
Books at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House tell a similar story of their owners, Melvyn and Sara Smith. But, unlike the orderly library of Saarinen House, this eclectic collection is dispersed to every room in the house, although the majority reside in Sara’s study.
Ranging from Cody High School yearbooks (Melvyn was the faculty editor), to popular literature, art magazines, pamphlets, and of course, books on Frank Lloyd Wright, the Smith Book Collection gives a glimpse into the Smith’s lives, since everything was left in its place when they moved from the home. In fact, a treasure trove of ephemera (newspaper clippings, postcards, receipts, etc.), often proving the provenance of artistic works in their home, were left tucked into many of the books and are now a part of the couple’s papers at the Archives. Also a part of their archival collection are several books, including autographed volumes by the house’s architect and its landscape architect, Thomas Church.
Thus concludes our peek into the fabulous special library collections at Cranbrook. I hope you are as inspired as I am about yet another fascinating facet of Cranbrook’s history!
—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Credits: Information on Cranbrook Schools Libraries provided by Kate Covintree, Head Librarian, Upper Schools; Institute of Science Library by Cameron Wood, Curator of Collections; Smith House and Saarinen House Libraries by Kevin Adkisson, Curator, Center for Collections and Research.