Saturday, 24 January 2015

Ege leaves at the Glencairn Museum

In November I visited the Glencairn Museum with Bill Stoneman. It is a fascinating place, in a charming setting in Bryn Athyn (outside Philadelphia), with wonderful collections—including medieval sculpture, stained-glass, and ivories, of high enough quality to be the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum—and we were looked-after all day with great hospitality by our kind hosts.
Our main purpose, of course, was to see the manuscripts, of which there are about 75 leaves and cuttings, and a single codex. A few of the finest items were in the Leaves of Gold exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2001, and are in its catalogue.

Many of the less important leaves were easily recognisable as having come from Otto Ege—so many, in fact, that we assumed that Raymond Pitcairn (1885–1966), the builder of both Glencairn and the adjacent Cathedral, must have bought one of the famous portfolios entitled Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts. But the situation was not so straightforward, because some of the normal portfolio leaves are not present in the collection, yet conversely there are two leaves from the Beauvais Missal:


The explanation was eventually revealed when we asked to see the archive file relating to Ege. The correspondence between Pitcairn and Ege (and, after his death, Ege's widow) reveals that Pitcairn bought the leaves several years before the famous Fifty Original Leaves portfolio was issued.

It seems to me that the correspondence throws enough light on several aspects of Ege's activities, and the efforts of his widow to market the portfolios, that it is worth transcribing them here almost in full.

The first letter is addressed not to Pitcairn himself, but to Parke Edwards (1890–1973), a designer and metalworker employed by him:


"Nov. 5. [1946]
Dear Parke:
At long last I am beginning to ship out Mss assortment. 4 groups since 4 o'clock – possibly 3 more before 10 P.M.
Just can't find time.
Hope the promised Bible sets will be in hand by the week end. – They will come on later.
The selection to Mr Pitcairn is a little larger. If you want any in his group, let me know not by # but by title. I feel sure you have most of the extras. I would greatly appreciate, if you and Paul and Mr Pitcairn could make tentative selections and return the others definitely not wanted [verso:] as the requests for 50 to 80 units are coming in so fast from Museums and Universities for Xmas exhibits. And dealers, who want to get in before the "sellers" market is rocked too badly.
I do not want to unload – but merely keep good will with the good friends in the trade. Replacements are terribly difficult and exorbitant.
Kindest regards to all
the Edwards & and The Ra[...?]
Sincerely
Otto
Tell Paul with You to pick out a nice $10.00 item each with Xmas greetings. Even if you do not buy a leaf!"[1]
Ege is clearly trying to convey, in typical salesman style, that the leaves are in high demand; that they will be snapped-up by other institutions and dealers if Edwards and Pitcairn do not act decisively; and that a similar opportunity to acquire such items at these prices may not arise again. Either out of genuine friendship, or perhaps more likely in the hope of getting Edwards's support in making a sale to Pitcairn, Ege offers Edwards and his friend Paul[2] each a free leaf worth $10, even if they do not buy anything.

What is particularly significant is that Ege is hoping to send out up to 7 groups of leaves all on the same day. This suggests that he has recently promoted groups of leaves for sale (perhaps at an exhibition?), and that a number of orders have come in. This is at the same time as he was preparing "Bible sets".

A month later Ege wrote to Pitcairn directly, having had a letter from Edwards in the interim:

"Dec. 4. 1946
My Dear Mr Pitcairn:-
Mr Parke Edwards wrote of your interest in the Bible set[3] and a large selection of the leaves – and also as to whether a special discount could be made.
The usual arrangement for Schools, Colleges and Museums is 10% from list. The 20% was a special one granted Parke and his friend on the basis of friendship and also on account of rather large purchases. That is about as liberal as I feel I can be, for replacement prices for similar items, in many cases are prohibitive – if they are obtainable at all. This past summer, I bid in items at London Book auctions, only to find them generally of less art value. One approval shipment of 4 volumes for $2300.00 all were returned except one small fragment of a book. The cost of the Bible set has increased $8.00 in the past 18 mo. – the paper, cost of cutting mats, & mounting $5.00 more for the 60. In no case have I raised the price of any leaf at all [verso:] over the price asked in previous years.
A discount of 25% is allowed to two large book dealers[4], who sell annually several thousand dollars worth of these items and who have to go to the expense of printing and distributing a special descriptive catalogue.
I might also add, that the finest pages, of those available, were selected for your assortment and Parke's.
Sometime in the not too distant future I hope to visit Phila. again, and then I hope to enjoy the new developments at Bryn Athyn. I have always been greatly interested, with the entire project and the high standard of craftsmanship and design. I well remember when Mr Stratton and I, at the School of Industrial Art, discussed your request for designers for monel metal, for plaster model makers, and our deciding to send Parke Edwards and Louis Ewald. And later Miss Eudora Sellner's interest(?) in needlework for the Cathedral.
Sincerely,
Otto F. Ege"
This letter gives an unusually detailed insight into the expense of preparing the leaves for sale: "the paper, cost of cutting mats, & mounting". It also confirms that the "Bible set" is the second, deluxe, "Series B", set, with 60 leaves instead of Series A's 37 leaves.

Ege followed-up this letter just two days later, on January 6:
"Mr dear Mr Pitcairn:-
I am pressed by the Museum to gather, this month, two large exhibition units of medieval manuscript leaves.
If there are any leaves, of the assortment sent to you, through Parke Edwards, that you are not considering purchasing, I would appreciate their return in the next two weeks to help in the above requests – as your assortment contained quite a few of the finest items on hand.
Sincerely
Otto F. Ege"
It is not entirely clear if Ege is simply trying to press Pitcairn to make a decision, or whether he really needed the leaves back from him. If the latter, then this suggests that Pitcairn had indeed been sent the best available specimens, and/or Ege did not have many others in stock to loan to the Museum.

A typescript carbon copy of Pitcairn's response, dated January 8, 1947, is next in the file:
"Dear Dr. Ege:
I fear that you must have gained a strange impression from my failure to respond to your letter written early in December. It came along at a time when I was extremely busy, and as the closing period of the year approached things grew worse rather than better. It was not through intention that I have neglected writing sooner.
This morning I intended to look over the manuscripts before I came in and also the list of prices sent with them to Park [sic] Edwards.
I have decided to take the Bible sheets, and I shall pick out some of the others and write to you just as soon as I have been able to do this. I used to be pretty well up on the market of medieval sculpture and certain art objects, but I have never gone in for manuscripts although I have a very few fine examples which one of these days I should be glad to show you.
This is merely a note to offer my apologies and to assure you that after picking out some of the examples offered me I shall send you the balance. Meanwhile, would you drop me a line as to how you prefer them shipped and with what amount of insurance?
Sometime when you are down this way I should be glad to have you visit me at Glencairn and see the house.
Sincerely yours,"
Ege responded the following day:
"Jan. 9, 1946 [sic]
Dear Mr Pitcairn:
The manuscript leaves can be returned via Parcel Post, insured for $50 – that is the usual way I have been sending them for the past several years.
I hope that in the not too distant future, I can avail myself of your invitation to see Glencairn – of which I heard such enthusiastic reports from Parke Edwards.
Should you ever come to Cleveland, I should be happy to show you my collection and also have you meet the Director of the Art Museum Mr Miliken [sic], our enthusiast of gothic sculpture, woodcarving & glass. – The Museum has some fine fragments.
Sincerely,
Otto F. Ege"
Having at last made his selection, Pitcairn sent a telegram a week later, on January 15, 1947:
"OMITTING MUSIC MANUSCRIPT SHEETS NUMBERS ONE AND TWO ALSO NUMBER FOURTEEN KORAN AND NUMBER SIXTEEN PERSIAN, WILL YOU ACCEPT FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR THE BALANCE INCLUDING THE PRINTED BIBLE SET. PLEASE WIRE REPLY COLLECT SIXTEEN SIXTEEN WALNUT STREET PHILADELPHIA
RAYMOND PITCAIRN"
Ege responded by telegram later the same day:
"WILL ACCEPT OFFER.
OTTO EGE."
Pitcairn wrote a letter the following day, January 16, 1947:

"Dear Mr. Ege:
I was pleased to receive your telegram and am really delighted to have this nice little collection of manuscripts. I have one very beautiful manuscript book complete and the idea of its being divided up and its sheets scattered in various directions gives me rather a heart-rending feeling. Nevertheless, what you have done does distribute these manuscripts among museums and collectors in a way that makes them available to more people and therefore a certain amount of such division may be entirely justified.
I should some day like to see your own collection. It has been a long time since I have been in Cleveland and when there I had only a brief time to spend at the Museum and devoted the little time I had to medieval objects other than manuscripts.
I have read with keen interest your article on the book. I hope to show the collection just purchased from you to our students of the Bryn Athyn Schools and shall try to get over to them some of the ideas contained in your article.
I look forward with pleasure to your visit to Glencairn.
I am returning the two large music manuscript sheets, also [verso:] the Koran manuscript, No. 14, and the little Persian page, No. 16, by parcel post, insured for $50 in accordance with your letter of January 9. The two large music sheets were interesting but the price seemed high although I admit that my view of prices in this instance is very limited. I do recall some large sheets of this general character being offered at what seemed to me relatively low prices sometime ago. They, however, were without miniatures and of course could not be compared at all with the $75 item with its fine miniature. My knowledge of manuscript prices is practically nil.
I enclose a check for $500 as agreed and should be glad from time to time to receive offerings of other items of special quality and interest."
This letter is particularly interesting because Pitcairn expresses the "heart-rending feeling" at the idea of a codex being "divided up and its sheets scattered in various directions", but he goes on to admit that perhaps the ends occasionally justify the means; Pitcairn planned to use his leaves for educational purposes, at the local school.

For what follows, it is important to note that Pitcairn ends his letter by asking "from time to time to receive offerings of other items of special quality and interest".

There is then a gap of eight years in the correspondence; Otto Ege died in 1951, and his wife inherited his estate, including the collection of manuscript leaves and dismembered codices.

On November 14, 1955, she sent a type-written copy of a letter that she was apparently sending to others at the same time [cf. Gwara, Otto Ege's Manuscripts, p.44].


She apparently received no response, and sent a hand-written note a month later, on December 18, 1955:

"This is to remind you of the sets of "Fifty Original MSS" issued for Otto F. Ege and planned by him. The information offered by these leaves and their labels is basic in so many fields but especially in that of art and calligraphy. Printers and writers go back to these early resources for [verso:] their inspiration.
The sets are selling very well all over the country and two in Canada as well as one in England. Their enthusiastic reception speaks well for their fine quality and usefulness in so many fields.
Sets can be sent on approval.
Sincerely                    
Louise L. Ege"
Presumably she still received no response and tried again three months later, on March 1, 1955, this time playing down her own role and emphasising the Otto's name, even changing the way in which she signs herself:

"Perhaps you will remember receiving a prospectus and letter in regard to the fine sets of "50 Original MSS." issued for and in the name of Otto F. Ege.
There is before me here a letter to Otto dated [January 16] in 1947, in which you expressed your enthusiasm for this material. Evidently you purchased some from Otto.
I just want to tell you about the enthusiasm with which this material has been received. All the notes for the labels and index sheets, as well as prospectus, were complete when he passed away. The work [verso:] is entirely his own.
I think you would enjoy seeing one of these sets. They can be sent on approval. Mr Ege would be proud if he could know of the many fine enthusiastic letters that have come from the institutions of learning which have purchased them.
Two went to Canada and one to England and eleven to all parts of the United States.
Perhaps you know of a library in Pennsylvania, Otto's birthstate, which would have the interest and means to acquire such a set. I would be proud to have one located somewhere near Philadelphia where he taught so many years.
At any rate I know you are interested.
Sincerely, Mrs Otto F. Ege"
As Gwara notes, "The posthumous dating means that we cannot know whether [the Fifty Original Leaves portfolio] represents Ege's vision ... While the descriptions sound much like Ege's, they could easily have been prepared from Ege's notes by Mrs. Ege, Philip Duschnes, or an amanuensis like Dr. Dorothy Schullian, a librarian who held a Chicago doctorate in Classics and assisted Ege" (op. cit., p.44–45). In this letter Mrs Ege unequivocally states: "All the notes for the labels and index sheets, as well as prospectus, were complete when he passed away. The work is entirely his own."

Apparently she included with each of her three letters a prospectus/chronological index of the portfolio, as there are three copies in the file: 


Despite the three approaches by Mrs Ege, Pitcairn evidently did not take the bait, and there is no later correspondence in the file.

At least part of his lack of interest must have been due to the fact that he had already, in 1947, bought from Ege leaves from many of the manuscripts that were subsequently re-packaged into the portfolios of "Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts". I intend, in a later blogpost, examine the 1947 transaction in more detail.



[1] I am grateful to Bill Stoneman for considerable help when examining and photographing the manuscripts and archive, and to both him and Gregory Jackson, Archivist at the Glencairn Museum, for help in trying to read the last few lines of the first letter in the series. I am especially grateful to the Curator, Ed Gyllenhaal, who made the visit possible and so enjoyable.
[2] It has not been possible to identify this "Paul". Gregory Jackson tells me that "Some contemporary Pauls are Paul Froelich (glass worker), Paul Border (a modeler), Paul Mossili (stone mason), and Paul Vorder (stone cutter), none of which would be making any kind of decisions about manuscripts."
[3] The portfolio entitled Original Leaves from Famous Bibles, Nine Centuries, 1121–1935 A.D., of which there is one at the Museum.
[4] Presumably Duschnes was one; who was the other?

1 comment:

  1. The correspondence is a fantastic find, Peter! Thank you so much for posting.

    ReplyDelete