NEWS: November 2008

Vol. 1, No. 10

In This Issue:

Members' Reading Room, Photo by Tom Crane, 2006



Over the past year, your Board and Executive Director have been engaged in gathering information and then writing a Strategic Plan for the Athenaeum. Aided by our consultant, Athenaeum member Mary Bruce, who came to us from the Business Volunteers for the Arts, and by your generous feedback and participation in focus groups, the Athenaeum Board is pleased to offer to you its first Strategic Plan. Please read and react. The Board plans to meet in April, before the Annual Meeting, in order to evaluate the plan, and your feedback will again be part of that discussion.  This plan represents the efforts of many people, and our thanks go out to those who participated.

Banner Image: Athenaeum Members' Reading Room.  Photo by Tom Crane, 2006.  From the book Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia by Roger W. Moss and Tom Crane (University of Pennsylvania  Press, 2008).

Newly Redesigned Athenaeum Website

Today, the Athenaeum launches a newly redesigned website. We hope that you will find it to be more informative and easier to use. These are a few of the new features:

Featured items on the Front Page
Upcoming events and notable features appear on the front page in a rotating display.

Online Dues and Donations
The Athenaeum can now accept credit card payments for membership dues and donations online.

Event Calendar
The event calendar lists all of the events taking place at the Athenaeum. Events will be clearly marked as to whether they are for members, or are open to the general public. If a reservation or registration is required, instructions will be provided.

Amazon Bookstore
In addition to the Athenaeum's regular bookstore, we now have an Amazon Affiliate Bookstore. When you purchase books from Amazon through this store, the Athenaeum will benefit. Featured in the Amazon store are books by Athenaeum members, Athenaeum Literary Award winners and books on Philadelphia architecture and history.

In addition to this newsletter, the new website will allow you to stay up-to-date on everything that is happening at the Athenaeum.


Above: New front page of the Athenaeum website. 


Staff News

On November 1, 2008 Bruce Laverty, Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture, celebrated 25 years with the Athenaeum.  In 1983 Bruce came to us from the Cigna Corporation Archives and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Over his years here Bruce has published the Athenaeum's Catalog of Architectural Drawings (1986) and Girard College Architectural Drawings Catalog (1994). In 1998 he co-authored Monument to Philanthropy: The Design and Building of Girard College, 1832-1848. He has also served as project director for the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings project, has curated a number of the Athenaeum’s own exhibitions in the Haas Gallery, and still maintains his sense of humor in the face of increasing research queries, both in person and online. 

Above: Bruce installs conservation UV filters in the rare book vault, 1988.

Athenaeum Artwork Inspires Famous Poem

This month marks the 170th anniversary of the visit to the Athenaeum of one of America’s most important literary figures. One “Edgar A. Poe” signed our strangers’ book when he paid the Athenaeum a visit on November 19, 1838. Introduced by member William Drayton, the young author visited the Athenaeum’s rented rooms on the second floor of Philosophical Hall on Independence Square. We don’t know which books or periodicals Poe may have perused that day, but we do know he would have seen a plaster cast bust of “Minerva.” This bust is one of four by sculptor George Miller which the Athenaeum purchased in 1814. It is possible that the Athenaeum’s Minerva had a role in Poe’s most famous poetic work. In his 1844 poem, 

”the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.” 

Pallas is another name for Athena, whose Roman name was Minerva. Of the Philadelphia libraries that Poe is known to have visited, only the Athenaeum is documented to have owned a “Pallid Pallas.”

In spite of the fame this Athenaeum art object received in The Raven, Minerva was somehow lost when we moved to our new quarters on Washington Square in 1847. Unlike Poe’s beloved Lenore, however, this lady did come back. She languished---not above the chamber door---but inside a closet in Philosophical Hall for more than a century until rediscovered in 1961 and returned to her original owner. Minerva now holds a place of honor by the window in the Busch Reading Room where she’ll be forgotten nevermore

Top:  Bust of Minerva by George Miller, 1814. Photo by Jim Carroll.


Bottom: Signature of Edgar Allen Poe.  From the Athenaeum Stranger's Book, November 19, 1838.


Save the Date:  

November 12: Roger Moss and Tom Crane discuss Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia

November 11: Socrates Cafe

November 19: Chilean Literary Event

December 3: James Garrison discusses Houses of Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill & the Wissahickon Valley, 1880-1930

See the Event Calendar for details and additional events.

The Athenaeum is open 9:00AM to 5:00PM, Monday-Friday.  The building is accessible to persons with disabilities.  Group tours and research visits are by appointment only. Please visit our website for more information, or call 215-925-2688.


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